Becoming Totoro’s Veterinarian

When I was very young, I used to dream 

of a hole in the woods I could run through 

where the spirits of the house would creak

and clatter after me like smoke, 

and we would dance in the moonlight 

in that slow way that plants do 

as they move toward the sun, dance

until my hands and feet turned black, 

either from the residue or the heat 

of the dancing. I would see a large animal 

and pretend to bandage its leg. 

I would bring the baby bird 

to its nest in my hair. I would sit 

with the small mammal I thought 

was a rabbit on top of the trampoline 

until it took its last breath, 

having been grabbed by the dog 

of the soccer mom’s child 

at a party. In the trees behind the house, 

I would put the soft body back 

and cover him in acorns, watch 

as the other creatures nearby ran from me 

to tell the one who bids them 

into the yard and under houses, it was gone.

You only see him when you’re very young,

the thing that makes the forest

go dark at night and flutter 

back to life each morning,

but I believe there is reason

to think he exists, beyond the standard

realm of city life; there are the pieces

of evidence: The patch of soil

at the new house where shoots

of asparagus rose up overnight.

The bramble of blackberry 

on the back fence. Surprise Lilies. 

Plum trees ripening despite 

the split right down the middle 

of the trunk. Trumpet vine clearing a door 

for the cat to enter, bending the chain link 

under its ever-growing weight. 

When you are very young,

the doors that let the cats in 

are also the ones you crawl through.

Under the temporary building, we huddle 

together, the soft earth under us 

almost breathing. We lose shoes 

in the water of the pond we try to jump over, 

covered in leaves, but we are never gone for long.

Just long enough to forget what it means,

just long enough to grow up.  How do I 

avoid retelling the same story of the creature 

living next door in the old trees 

and abandoned house? I tell it to stay still, 

hang tight, while you sleep, I’ll think about how

To keep you from experiencing the rain.

I’ll leave, but I will come back 

with the tattoo of an acorn 

on my right bicep, and the tools 

to know how to give you medicine. 

You must be so very old now, and in need. 

To a forest spirit living over centuries, 

I will always be very young. Lift your head, 

open that wide mouth, let me see your teeth.

Clara Bush Vadala is a poet and veterinarian from Van Alstyne, TX. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Magazine, Moss Puppy Magazine, and New South Review, among others. 

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