Cocoa Bean

This is Cocoa Bean. He’s approaching his 17th birthday.

He detests having his picture taken almost as much as I do. He loathes car rides (even to the park) and shrunkles into a shadow of himself at the vet’s office. When I go out to the barn my family reports that he lifts his chin and howls. If I leave, he positions himself on the top of the couch to watch the driveway for hours. Let me hasten to add, his life truly isn’t stressful. He’s treated with warm affection and, because I mostly work from home, has near-constant companionship. While I work he sleeps in his chosen lair under my desk. His favorite thing, which he delights in more than he does eating, is playing outside. He’s especially joyous when I’m gardening, which gives him plenty of time to investigate scents and bark at ducks on the pond.

Cocoa Bean came to us in a complicated way, involving his person’s deportation with all the accompanying injustices and miseries. We were, at the time, German shepherd people. We’d had a few mixed-breed dogs as well, but were on our fourth German shepherd—a noble creature named Jedi Moon who also answered to a half-dozen other names of endearment.     

We’d never had a small dog. Cocoa Bean, a toy poodle, joined our family when he was around five months old. He was what my mother called “a nervous wreck” – barking at the slightest thing and only able to sleep if one of our two younger children let him stay in their bedrooms, which they did every night. I wasn’t all that interested in having another dog. My mother’s health was failing, I was working whatever writing gigs I could get. And we were engaged in homeschooling that seemed to involve more away than home.

Jedi Moon wasn’t all that interested in having another dog either. He managed to avoid looking directly at the puppy for the first few months, although he did tolerate the little dog snuggling against him for naps, and eventually tolerated his antics with an elder statesman’s patience. I learned to manage two dogs for daily walks on our sidewalk-free 55 mph rural road. Jedi Moon would stroll along with dignity while Cocoa Bean zigzagged like exuberant golden rickrack against green grass. His enthusiasm for every sight and smell eased my weary heart. Not long after my mother died, my husband lost his job. When my husband came along for dog walks I tried to impose be-here-now conversation about what we saw around us, but he inevitably got back to grim topics like politics or our finances. Here’s an account of one such walk.

Why We Walk the Dogs 

Yawning, you say you’re too tired 
yet we can’t refuse
brown-eyed pleading at the door.

Away from these walls we more easily silence
sorrow, hardship, loss
by looking, only looking.

Cows in the lower pasture raise their heads as we pass.
A Baltimore oriole alights on a hickory fencepost
twined with yellow flowers. The sun stretches
generous arms of light cloud to cloud.

The old dog walks alongside,
as the puppy bounds through ditches
up hillsides, joyously muddy
collecting scents for his dreams.

When grief or fear catches in my throat
I remember to look at the sky
letting higher possibilities
hover over our steps.

Then through evening brightness
dozens of blue and green dragonflies
swoop around us in some unknown ritual.
We wonder which of nature’s perfect gestures—
migration, mating, defense—this may be. 
Standing in the middle of our complicated lives,
we feel a lift of hope requiring no effort
and turn toward home, wide awake.

Soon, Cocoa Bean’s life changed.

He’d been the only small dog in the family. He had the run of the house and commanded the farm. He chatted up chickens, faced down cows, and scared away invisible badgers.
He and his friend Jedi Moon went on great adventures. Afterwards they took long naps. In the evenings Jedi Moon snoozed while Cocoa Bean snuggled with the people, played in blankets, and bounded from couch to couch.
Until a small fluffy creature was adopted. It snuggled with people, played in blankets and bounded on couches. They named this interloper Winston and discussed his sad backstory: injured and abandoned as a small puppy.
When the interloper poohed on the floor the people just cleaned it up. Cocoa Bean had some plotting to do. Stealthily, he snuck his own poo on the floor just where this creature had gone. Success, the creature was blamed! Cocoa Bean did it again, and again, and again. Such joy.
 Until the day Cocoa Bean was discovered in an incriminating crouch. His plot was foiled. He tried to hold his head up while all around him people were laughing. He was seen plotting with the cat, but nothing came of it. The interloper was here to stay.
Eventually they became fast friends.

Jedi Moon and Winston both lived long, high personality, much loved lives before they left us. Cocoa Bean is still here.

I started writing poetry not long after he came to live with us. Here’s one he inspired.

Calling the Dog

Following messages left in leaves   soil   air
he wanders too far.
When I call he pauses
to hurl fullness and glory
ahead of the self
like whales breach   tigers lunge   hawks soar.
There’s nothing but an arc
between hearing his name and springing
toward the one who named him.

I want this completeness.
I want to feel 100 trillion cells spark
from this body in answer
to what we call spirit.
I want to taste 
the shimmering voltage course
from every rock   tree    star.

A moment before reaching me
he unsprings
back to golden fur and brown eyes
arriving tongue first.

I don’t just write the occasional dog-inspired poem. I also have, well, powers. My family calls me a canine “butt psychic” for the way I know when they need to go out and for the occasional opinions dogs like to share via telepathy. If I translate for the humans around me, 100% of the time those humans make fun of me. Here’s an example. Years ago Cocoa Bean suffered a grand mal seizure. It was horrifying. Then he had one a few hours later, also horrifying. This happened on a Sunday evening, no vet available, so I went to bed planning to make an appointment first thing in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. A while later I heard scrabbling in the carpet by our bedroom door. I was sure the poodle was having another seizure. He wasn’t, but I couldn’t go back to bed. I sat on the floor holding him and crying quiet tears, unable to imagine going on without this friend of mine. Then Cocoa Bean’s thoughts came through. He said he was upset by how upset I was. He had no way of understanding I was upset on his behalf. He was completely right. I calmed down, breathed deeply, and concentrated on sending love from my being to his being. When I finally went to bed I told my husband what the dog had said. My husband informed me I was completely nuts. But I told him Cocoa’s perspective hadn’t occurred to me until he shared it with me.

Cocoa Bean now has two new animal buddies. Festus, who is two years old now, and whose name has a story behind it.

And now eight month old Archibald, named after a character in my childhood’s most important book.

Both are exuberant, uniquely engaging creatures who have helped soften our days even while the world’s crises rage around us. It seems we are now, officially, People With Small Dogs. I’m grateful for many aspects of having animal companions in my life. One is the way they get me outside at all hours and in all weather where I remember to breathe and be present.

Thursday Morning At Dawn

Darkness frees me to stand nightgowned
on the porch, watch
the dogs merge into shadow,
snuffle, pee, reappear.

I stretch, inhale summer’s warm weight,
imagine staying in this spot
while what has to be done
swirls by undone.

I imagine a taproot growing down my spine,
out my feet, through the porch floor
and deep underground,
rootlets reaching all directions.

Imagine remaining here so long
I fade from sight, although
everyone crossing this portal
pauses as they pass through my arms.

15 thoughts on “Cocoa Bean

    • Thank you, dear Katharine. I started and stopped writing a blog post many times—but every topic led me to ranting about climate disaster or gun atrocities—so I vowed to write about something that brought me joy. Hence, this little dog.


  1. “The dog says…” is a completely normal and everyday statement in this house. No word ever emerges from out of his aristocratic snoot, but he communicates exceedingly clearly, and it isn’t only by means of overpowering side-eye, outraged stalking about or contemptuous but barely perceptible sneering. His clear understanding of life is that He is a God and we exist to Serve Him, and we’d better Do It Quick or there’ll be Trouble. Not that there’s ever any badness, but he’ll toss and savage his toys, drag his blankies about, fart freely (and lethally) and stand there staring at us challengingly. And this is the doggo who presents a soft, timid, gentle-giant persona in public, in a very effective treat-extracting strategy. It’s all a big fat lie. But we love him devotedly and I will be destroyed when his time comes. Of *course* dogs can talk, they communicate constantly. They just don’t use English/language of your choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have transformed me into a “dog” person just through the invitation
    to join you and Cocoa Bean on a walk along your beautiful farm road. I’m
    so glad you talk to each other in the middle of the night.
    Thank You!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the “arriving tongue first.” The morning arms of thursday-dawn like trees and dogs have their own bark that is barking down the right tree preparing calmly for the joys and mourning days at sunset. The gods of the cocoa beans that make the soothing chocolate are scampering with the dogs afield.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this post, Laura. The photos, poems, and the paean not only to Cocoa Bean but also his co-dogs is a balm for those of us weary of reading about far less joyous things. Thanks for this. Sending belly rubs to all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dogs are what got me through depression that erupted when I went through menopause. They are why I learned to go for walks in all weather. They’ve inspired poem after poem after poem. Cocoa Bean and his peers are the teachers we need more than we care to admit.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Laura,

    I enjoy reading your posts always and loved this one about Cocoa Bean and your other doggies. It made me want to laugh, cry, think. So nice spending time with you this way.


    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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