Eddy Deutsche, just one of my amazing tattoo artists, had a magnificent beast of a dog, Hodji. An all black Newfoundland, with glossy long fur and a massive head. He was the noblest of creatures, and quite a comforting presence, calming those with needle anxiety, resting his impressive maw on shaking limbs and touching noses as if he could heal, and I am sure he did heal. Animals are magic. The world is theirs. We live in it to honor and appreciate them. Their presence is a tremendous gift that nature provides us. Those we can tame, we are meant to care for and love and hold and treasure. They remind us of how limited our capacity for love and devotion is. They show us how to worship and how to be present and how to live. How to uncurl and curl our spines when we lay down. Everything and everything can be learned from these small, medium and sometimes very large teachers.
When Hodji died, Eddy envisioned a huge tribute, a blazing, blistering image of the beautiful beast leaving his earthly dog body and entering another one more suitable to contain his grandeur. The dog was no longer an adorable pet, but closer to a sun god – with fire in his breath and veins. No longer bound to the earth by his bad hips and far too accelerated dog years – in death, he had come to his true self. I love this painting. What do we do with our grief for our animals is important. When we can make beautiful art such as this, we can transcend our pain and suffering. We can know that their lives and our lives were made better by our closeness, and see plainly that those countless moments where our eyes met, were not dog to human, but rather, divine to the divine. Namaste indeed.
I have missed Ralph every moment since his death. Years and tears have not blunted the harsh emptiness of the loss of him. There is a blank spot in my psyche and my heart, an empty echo that used to be filled with his long black nails on the wood floor, cold spots where his body would warm the planks. When I wake up in the morning, I will still instinctively put my hand down where he once lay next to me every night, reaching for him and I will remember in the most shattering yet devastatingly silent way, that he is not there. I cannot be convinced to scatter his ashes. His remains must remain where they are, near where his bed was in life, wrapped with his black leather sailor jerry flash collar, resting on a funereal shrine to him, adorned with oil paintings and watercolors and pencil drawings and other tiny appreciations of my love. He’s become like king tut, his greatness realized more in his death, his tomb filled to bursting with riches.
Eddy helped me put yet another tribute to Ralph on my skin, where he lives now. The memory of the big dog resides in my body, the softness of his fur on my hands, especially underneath his chin, and on the wide plains of his chest, white like he wore a poet’s shirt under his black jacket of curls. I can feel my lips touch the top of his head, where his skull lay hard and sure underneath his butterscotch dot eyebrows. I can smell his big corn chip paws and feel the roughness of the pads, as my fingers searched between them for tiny pebbles from our many millions of walks. He lives in me, not on the earth, not in the sky, but in me. and he’s a horse here, which is what I think he would have liked to be, perhaps what he thought he was. Tall and strong and fast and a kicker and a runner and a majestic beauty. My tribute to my love done by a masterful artist who truly understands. This tattoo brings me to almost uncontrollable cathartic crying with its beauty and sincerity. Perhaps I can let the ashes go now. I have this.