The Midday Scorcher

I’m three hours into a drive out west and it’s hotter’n blue blazes out there. My dash board’s telling me it’s 116 degrees, but even with the a/c working as hard as it can, that temperature feels underestimated. Having lived in Texas my whole life, I’m supposed to be used to this, but hoo boy I tell ya, there’s no getting used to frying eggs in your driveway.

Still, I love this drive. This 6-hour jaunt out west to the land of 1,000 donkeys that I find excuses to make where I end up on two-lane highways surrounded by prickly pears and yucca plants is therapy. I have no cell service on much of this route and either spend it listening to a pre-downloaded audio book or all of my Old Crow Medicine Show albums. I am as good’a singer as Ketch Secor on these drives; it’s a shame no one else ever gets to witness it—seems to only happen when I’m alone. 😉

Speaking of Ketch Secor, the novel I’m coincidentally listening to on this trip is ‘The Midnight Cool’ written by his wife (at least that’s what the interwebs tells me; I habitually read about authors I enjoy) and amazing writer, Lydia Peelle. You’ll never guess it, but this book is chalk full of mules….and not just mules as outlying, empty creatures that serve as backdrop ornaments to set tone or mood, but as detailed, respected, and complex and I gotta tell you, it’s the first novel I’ve read (well, listened to) that does this. She talks about how the “…humble long ear has been the victim of much mudslinging” which, whether you’re talking about a mule or their father, the donkey, it’s true. I’m hanging on every word she’s written (and is being read to me wonderfully by Don Hagen) and it just gets me that much more giddy about arriving at my destination.

Y’all know by now that I work with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (it’s where I’m headed on this mirage-inducing drive) and as such, it’s become a red-hot goal of mine (and frankly, my highest honor) to spread the word about donkey welfare. They are victims of mudslinging like Ms. Peelle describes…they’re the butts of jokes, the forgotten warriors, the misunderstood creatures. But it’s true that anyone who takes the time to get to know them realizes that there are worlds within a donkey’s eyes. There is tenderness in their hearts. There is a gravity about them: an inescapable yet peaceful gravity.

My donkeys are what keep me grounded. No matter the day or time, if I need someone to lean on, they’re there. If I need someone to sit with for a while, they’re there. I never ask them to do this, they just do.

How much are we misunderstanding simply because we’re not taking the time? Not just donkeys or mules, but everyone? Over the years, I’ve learned from many people the assumptions they’ve made about me which have often been based on my behaviors as a person riddled with deeply-seeded anxiety (which I suppose is understandable, I can be difficult to be around sometimes…an ungentiled and untrusting donkey.) But at the core of myself, (like a donkey) I’m loyal too. I’ll sit with damn near anyone who just needs a shoulder for a while. I’m overly cautious (which is often seen as stubborn).

I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to love my own isms, especially the more I choose to learn about them and the more I’m starting to realize that if reincarnation is indeed a thing, I might’ve been a donkey in my past life. Same goes for donkeys—how many people jump to the conclusion that they’ve got pea-sized brains because some movie made an ass joke about them while trotting a big, statuesque and shiny hero-horse by?
It’s been a while since I’ve passed another vehicle and I start to wonder if my car broke down in the heat of this sun, what would I do? No cell service, no folks passing by, no donkeys to lean on. I suppose I’d find some shade and listen to this book some more until someone came along.

On I drive, my heart happier and happier that I found this novel by chance. I’ve decided that if somehow, someway I ever get the chance to meet Lydia Peelle, I’d like to hug her neck and thank her for what she has to say about long-ears. She’s fighting the fight I’ve only barely begun: the uphill battle in convincing the world that donkeys (and their kin) are the best. Donkeys are what we should all be striving to be: kind, cautious, loyal, inquisitive, and strong even when it’s so hard sometimes.

To my left, two dust devils dance around one another in a vast acreage of red dirt and brush, their bases hopping around like they too feel the heat on the ground. It’s quite lovely what nature does when she thinks she’s not being watched. Deer delicately pick the flowers out of the prickly pears. Cows lay peacefully in the shade of any tree they can find, their sides and rumps touching I imagine, because they just want to be sure of each other. Vultures float in tornadoes around something dying or decaying, their bellies anxious for a meal.

Makes me wonder what we do most when we think we’re not being watched. In a lot of cases, I don’t think we’re much different from the dust devils, the deer, the cows, or the vultures. We’re all part of this bizarre life quilt sewn together by all of our strange and often misunderstood isms. It’s quite lovely.

‘The Midnight Cool’ reaches the end of a chapter and so I switch my speakers over to Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” I turn it up as loud as my speakers will go singing along with every complex lyric, giddy and thrilled that in a few short hours, I’ll be at my home away from home—the land of 1,000 donkeys—the place where my fire for change is stoked like no other.

Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those who fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other:

“…Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while…”

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Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Wander

Twisted, tangled trails
With sprawling vines and
Dangling branches like
Curious fingertips flickering
In the shifting winds

We wander—we all wander.
One step atop another,
Our foot, paw, claw, and
Hoof prints melded along
Muddled puddled paths

We wander—we all wander.
Purple weeds and fungus
Steps swirling tree trunks
That tower indimidatingly
And must sway sometimes, too

We wander—we all wander.
This road carved by
All of us, forked and branched
By our steps, the blooming
World thriving because
Every single sprout matters

No matter how small

We wander—we all wander.
It begins and it ends the
Same, each road an exciting
Tale of strength, bravery,
Missteps and triumphs. Legend
Left in tracks where we met
To be found by a new traveler

We wander—we all wander.

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Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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Talk to Them

They say that talking to
Plants helps them grow,
That the exchange of
Voice (regardless of tone)
Encourages broader bloom.

I believe the same works
With each other: That
Brighter, bigger, more beautiful
Growth rides the waves
Of our thoughtful voices.

Talk to them. Talk to them all.
Build base for understanding:
For learning, for seeing, for hearing,
And for loving.

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We Were Friends When…

I am re-posting this today for my mom, the most wonderful woman in the world. Happy birthday, mom, I love you so much.

[side note, I recently round the Ziploc baggie in a closet in my new house. 20+ years and the game continues…]

A Donkumentary

There’s a photo on my parent’s refrigerator back home of my mom and me—it’s a selfie of the two of us way before selfies were a thing. My hair was bleach, bright blonde and we both wore a pair of dark brown, oversized sunglasses. We were on our way to Austin for a weekend away, just us. I think about this photo often—it was taken, gosh, 14 years ago? I think of it often because in that photo, my mom and I have the exact, same smile and behind our bug-eyed sunglasses, it’s difficult to even tell us apart (but for the hairstyle) and I love knowing that there is another person out there who’s just like me. Not only that, but that person who’s out there who’s just like me happens to be one of the most important people in the world.

I’m one of the lucky ones: a…

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Just Hello

I’m standing on the back patio, cool wind brushing over my skin. It’s rare to feel an April chill down here in Texas and yet, here I am wishing I’d worn a light jacket. Above me, a green basket hangs with bright, pink impatiens spilling over the edges of it; sprinkles of shedded pedals flickering from the ground beneath it, their delicate folds lifeless now but for the breeze that moves them like little marionettes.

There are no clouds in the sky that I can see, just a perfect, pastel, and unending blue—a blue that looks down with such intimidating purity. I feel tiny.

In front of me, our dog Tucker lies on his side with his eyes half open: he’s sunning himself on this cloudless day. I imagine that beneath his brown fur, his skin is tingling in the sunlight. His breath pulses in and out of his belly, his tongue out but not dripping when Bodhi, our newly adopted baby donkey who was orphaned by his mother, slowly approaches.

Bodhi noses my leg and I pat him on the head before he takes two steps to a sunbathing Tucker. Tucker retracts his tongue into his mouth and rolls back, leaning his weight into Bodhi’s tiny legs. Bodhi lowers his head to Tucker. They must be saying hello, but then there’s a pause. They pause in this greeting, each of them relaxing into one another—they seem to sigh in relief.

I’m overwhelmed by this. I’ve never witnessed a friendship evolve without me being a part of it. It occurs to me that we must rarely see the true intimacy of a friendship unless we are in the mix…and even then, inside of friendships, we often carry with it our expectations, our pasts, our neuroses, our weaknesses, our narcissisms and our insecurities which must put some kind of a filter on what we’re seeing and experiencing. That’s not to say our filters are a bad thing, but I suspect it must be pretty difficult to see friendships and relationships with absolutely no biases. Maybe so. I’m not sure.

I’ve just never been so up close to the birth of a friendship where I’m on the outside looking in. It’s…it’s…well it’s so darn sweet.

I’m rooting for the deepening of this bond between Tucker the terrier mix and Bodhi the orphaned donkey. I want to see what they’ll teach one another. I wonder how they’ll play? I wonder what language is transferring between the two of them as they rest together in the golden sun that sparkles in their relaxed and comforted brown eyes?

It is in our solitude that we invite and rest with those we most trust, although I suppose that means we can no longer call it solitude; togetherness…solitude in our togetherness. Yes. It’s there that I think I like to exist most.

King Ranch and I do this—spend time alone together. He is my best friend, the only person with whom I willingly and eagerly share my solitude. I don’t think I consider how lucky I am for this nearly enough.

Tucker licks Bodhi’s nose and now I can’t handle their sweetness. Their innocence. Their unbiased curiosity. Their pure intentions. Again, I feel tiny, but not in a bad way. I feel dwarfed in presence by their undivided awareness of one another. I may as well not be standing there at all and then it feels like maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be sometimes. Maybe it’s right to fade away and let others bloom in their own way. I’m glad I get to see its beginning.

I think I’ll call King Ranch just to say hello. I don’t really have much more to say than that. Just hello.

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About a Baby

It’s approaching dusk on a most perfectly, Texas spring evening—the kind of evening where in the setting sun, the warm, amber rays soak into your thirsty skin and in the shade, the same skin prickles for a jacket. New, bright green leaves flicker in the trees in a breeze without a direction. I’m sitting on the back patio watching King Ranch play a game of tag—or is it hide-and-seek? I can’t tell—with Little Foot. My curly-headed kid is giggling wildly and in circles around them, our dog Tucker jumps with his tongue dangling from his happy mouth. Behind them with curious eyes and ears, Bunny and Tee watch over the fence, their eyes following the circles in which my kid and his father and his dog dance.

Moments ago, I shuffled the little chicken family into their coop: Wednesday Addams, and her three not-so-little-babies, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, take turns drinking from their water bowl. I’ve discovered as they’ve aged that Harry is actually a female, but I think I’ll keep the name. Ron is most definitely a rooster and he’s just found his crow; the squeaking excitement of pubescent poultry learning the depths of his voice. It’s downright adorable.

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With my right hand, I’m running my fingers through the cotton-candy fluff of the newest addition to our little farm family: Bodhi the orphaned donkey.

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His head rests in my lap with his ears laid back as I draw circles with my fingers on his head which feels so small in my hand: a delicate ornament. Bodhi’s mom rejected him after birth and since finding him abandoned in a windstorm, my most favorite organization, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and the generous donors that make their mission possible, have cared for him ‘round the clock, ultimately saving his life.

Bodhi noses at my legs, his wide eyes looking straight at mine and I slide down to the ground to wrap my arms around him. He leans his weight into me and his smell is so familiar: the way Little Foot’s nursery used to smell when he still slept in a crib. The way crying onto your mom’s shoulder smells when you’re lost and out of options. The shifting under-current of needing to be held, to be loved, to feel safe, to feel like you’re enough. He smells cozy, like the throw blanket that’s laid over the back of your couch since you were a kid that’s wrapped itself about you, caught your tears, your dreams, your tired body. He smells like home: furry, curious, playful, wonderful home.

Tucker barks and it catches Bodhi’s attention. He snaps his head up, his small ears perked, and then he clumsily trots over to the game of tag or hide-and-seek. King Ranch kneels down with Little Foot to pet him. I’m suddenly overcome with…with…I’m not sure what it is, but my eyes are welling up and my heart is pounding. The innocence of these creatures huddled in an embrace in my backyard overwhelms me. I wonder how I’ve become so lucky to have love like this in my life: to have a family made up of the kindest, most loving beings, both two-legged and four. A family who I didn’t realize wasn’t complete until just now. A family who needs one another so badly, each of us having fallen into just the right role. 

I miss Tink. I miss him like crazy. Y’all might remember that I was unsure if I’d continue this blog of stories once we moved and after the sudden and tragic loss of Tink, I thought for sure I’d pack up this here Donkumentary for good.

But then the flowers began to stretch their petals, reaching up to the sun from their long sleep and as they awoke, Bodhi came home to us. He’s in my care now. My heart is throbbing in my chest as I watch the loves of my life huddle together in front of me—as I see that it’s not only me who fell in love with Bodhi the second I saw him, but my whole family.

It took several, difficult weeks for Little Foot to understand that Tink wasn’t coming back and if I’m being honest, it took me a while, too. It’s not easy explaining death to a three-year old. What King Ranch and I have landed on is explaining that sometimes people and animals go away to a place that we can’t see, but just because they’re gone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them or that we must forget them. Little Foot can understand this. He still calls Tink his friend…his friend that went away.

Bodhi doesn’t fill the hole in our hearts. Instead, he has brought with him a whole part of us that we didn’t know existed: a piece of us that we didn’t realize was unfilled until all the sudden there’s this flavor in our days that now we couldn’t imagine living without. Bodhi is like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. He is smelling the pouring rain after a long drought. He is every brand new, green leaf twinkling in the warm wind of spring.

Bodhi is the orphaned donkey whose life was saved because of people who loved him (some without even meeting him!) and wanted to see him have a chance at life. Caring for this little furry-headed ball of perfect innocence is exactly how we should all be treating each other: as if everyone’s life is dangling by a shoestring because it really is. If you lean in close enough, I think there’s something familiar about all of us. Bodhi has brought us hope because his very existence is a result of unconditional, human love. His clumsy trot is proof that we can work together. His soft head in my lap is gratitude for the opportunity to exist in a world together. Bodhi is a reminder that we can all do better. Bodhi is our future. Bodhi is love.

…love. That must have been what I was feeling as I sat on the back patio crying: love so pure and so unconditional and so grateful for everything that’s brought this baby into our lives. Love. I am so deeply in love.

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For more information on PVDR and what they do to save so many donkeys like Tink and Bodhi, please visit their website at http://www.donkeyrescue.org.

 

Rest

You’re tough, my girl,
I’ve seen your fight—
Fire deep in your gut,
Dormant and dark until
SNAP!

Your fury bursts in
Colorful flames, a terrifying
Murder of crows searing high
Into the gray and scattering
Clouds.

But when your strength
Seems lost, my dear, when
The void is all you feel,
Rest your sweet head on
Me,

And I’ll fight until your
Embers catch and crackle
Again and anew. Rest now,
Friend, in your darkness,
Rest.

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