I want everyone to feel how my doggo makes me feel-- unconditionally loved and trusted
My friend Naomi donned a far-off gaze as if engrossed in a romance novel. “Trust me, you have not experienced pure bliss until you’ve felt the gentle hooves of a baby goat jumping onto your stomach while you’re in savasana.”
I followed her to the wrought-iron gates of St. John’s Cemetery and my voice fell into a whisper, “You know this is insane, right?” I gripped the carrying case handles of my yoga mat, swinging it across the front of my body like a pathetic rubber shield. I sucked in my stomach as I walked through the rows and rows of headstones, a superstitious habit developed on the school bus over a decade ago. On bus number twenty-five, we spent the trip to Carroll Elementary School by concocting tall tales. It was widely accepted that if you didn’t hold your breath as you passed the cemetery, a spirit could steal your soul. Or, if you stared too long at the statue of the veiled angel, your eyes would bleed. Sammy Gordon tried to convince Naomi and me that he had counted to ten while looking at the statue, but Naomi knew he was just a liar with a chronic nosebleed condition. I would have to lose these childish superstitions because for the next hour, I was supposed to focus on my breathing.
Naomi led me to a small wire pen, like you’d find in a petting zoo, encompassing the only patch of dirt unclaimed by burial plots. The dirt was covered with a thick layer of hay, damp from a recent storm. Naomi was wise to bring a towel with her. She unrolled her mat on a spot adjacent to a towering crypt with six concrete pillars, dome top, and name carved in curling script. I stood, adjusting and readjusting the position of my yoga mat so I wouldn’t be ass-towards the mausoleum. The O’Hara family might find that disrespectful.
“Sit down, Kristen, and relax. Remember you’re here to relax.” Naomi advised. This had been Naomi’s five-hundredth attempt at helping me “relax.” Cycling class nearly gave me hemorrhoids; glass blowing resulted in lumpy molten globs; cooking instruction caused Mrs. Doubtfire style burns; and the wine/painting party turned out to be more of a become-your-own-canvas disaster. And still, relaxation is a foreign word to me. When Naomi asked me to choose archery or goat yoga, I went with the less lethal option.
I donned Naomi’s skin-tight floral yoga leggings, bearing the same horseshoe-shaped logo that made me fit in with a group of America’s Next Top Model wannabes who seemed to never stop taking pictures. The last time I had set foot in this cemetery was over a decade ago. Then, I had worn a more somber outfit.
“Find a space and start practicing your inhales and exhales,” said a woman in a worn-out sweatsuit with paint stains, who I inferred was our instructor. “The goats should be here soon.”
A few young couples joined, along with a mother with her two preteen daughters. Our group seemed out of place, as if someone took the ropes and turnstiles of Splash Mountain’s waiting line and redirected us here.
“What’s wrong with regular yoga?” I tried to sponge away awareness of my surroundings by taking a deep breath.
Naomi shrugged. “Goats are supposed to help you connect to nature or something. And it’s like a form of animal therapy.”
“And were all the puppies and kittens unavailable today?” I swept wayward strands of hay from my mat.
Naomi crossed her legs, setting her upturned palms on her knees, like a zen goddess. “Kristen, Re—”
“—everytime you tell me to relax it makes me relax less.” My hand slipped from my mat, into the wet dirt. Naomi passed me her towel without even opening her eyes.
I caught a glimpse of the veiled angel and my belly refused to emit carbon dioxide until I closed my eyes. For a few moments, I managed to lie back and breathe, until I heard beeping and bleating in the distance.
Backing into a narrow strip of dirt, a small trailer stopped abruptly and the beeping ceased. “They’re here!” The yoga instructor cooed, but in my head she sounded more like the girl from Poltergeist. Naomi and my pen mates smiled and cheered as if they just heard Oprah was doling out gifts.
The farmer got out of the truck, scratched his bristly beard, his wide belly, and reached in the side of his overalls to scratch his hip, I hope. He gave a respectful nod towards his passenger 4 seat, from which a large gray goat crossed. Its horns scratched the roof of the truck. “Easy, Dolly Parton, don’t you go anywhere.” Gingerly, the farmer rubbed the back of her neck. Dolly returned to her seat and I swear she kicked her hoof up and flipped back a long section of her fur, a gesture of silent sass. The tips of her hooves were polished with red paint.
He pulled the trailer door open, unleashing about a dozen goats no bigger than labrador pups. The goats swarmed the farmer who plied them with food pellets. I plugged my nose in anticipation of pungent odors of dirt and manure, but in timidly releasing my fingers from my nose, the air had milder odors of hay and only a slight tinge of urine. I recalled how pungent the smell of lilies had been at St. John’s on the day we buried Nonna. For weeks after, Nonno’s house lingered with the sad fragrance of memorial bouquets. Compared to lilies, hay is a much more soothing olfactory sense.
The yoga instructor herded the goats into the pen, speaking as if she were a pacifying Kindergarten teacher leading kids to a school assembly. “Alright now, single file please.” The goats’ interpretation of single file was more like a buzzing hive of bees.
The farmer stood outside the pen, closing the gate. “Alright, Dolly wants to go to the county fair, and this place gives me the willies, so here are a few ground rules. Everyone grab a handful of food to welcome the goats. They’ll wanna put their scent on your mat.” I shook my head, while Naomi and others grabbed a handful of pellets. The goats were in a frenzy, not knowing whose hand to feed from first, so they just seemed to huddle around the same hand until they moved onto the next.
A model wannabe with long, straight hair tried posing with a nearby goat. The goat mistook her hair for food and she shrieked. “Next rule,” the farmer added, “tie up your hair. The goats can and will give you a haircut.” Her friends supplied a hair tie and she proceeded to take selfies.
The tween girls giggled while the goats nibbled at their palms. Their cute moment was ruined by an unexpected stream of goat pee on one of their yoga mats. “Another thing,” the farmer tossed a roll of paper towel their way, “these are livestock, not house pets. They are not potty trained. So, just wipe away any messes they make.” Naomi and I instinctively looked at our unstained outfits and wished we had followed our yoga instructor’s shrewd choice of clothing for this occasion.
“Goat poop is so weird. I don’t wanna see any.” I felt squeamish.
“Don’t think of it as goat poop.” Naomi replied as a goat defecated, on cue, in the hay between our mats. “Rather, it’s coffee beans....that you don’t want to ingest.” She shrugged and scratched the goat on the head. Naomi avoided the small circles on its forehead where its horns used to be. She read the name written in sharpie around the goat’s collar, “Aww Reba. You’re such a cutie!”
“Last rule and this one’s the big one.” The farmer menacingly scanned the group. “You can pick up the goats, but do not hold they upside down in your arms like a baby. You will break their spines.” The tween girls looked like they were about to cry. The farmer drove the point home, “And they could die.” The mother wrapped her arms around the girls. The farmer pointed a mud-caked finger at Naomi and me. “Don’t hurt my goats.” Naomi and I held our hands up, bemused. “Here’s the proper way to pick up a goat.” The farmer put one hand around Reba’s chest and the other around her hind legs. He lifted Reba up, placed her back down, wiped his 6 hand against his dirty overalls, and walked back to his truck. As he opened the door, I caught a glimpse of Dolly, curled up in a pink gingham-patterned dog bed. The door closed and they left.
It was just us and the goats surrounded by at least a thousand graves. And while I sat on my yoga mat, I pictured Nonna lying beneath the earth, about five hundred feet from me.
I watched the group interact with the goats. Some cooed and called them precious and cute and even referred to them as “little angels.” A lean woman wearing a flowy black blouse silently bowed her head towards a brown-eared goat named Shania, who gazed back at her like they shared a secret.
“Do I have to grab one?” I sheepishly asked Naomi, pointing to the goats like they were yoga blocks.
In a voice as melodic and soft as a lullaby, the yoga instructor added, “Let them come to you.”
Naomi scratched the neck of a nearby tawny goat, gesturing that I should do the same. “Come here, give Taylor Swift some love.”
Taylor leered her black rectangular irises towards me. “Nah, I’m not really a fan.” I inched my yoga mat farther away.
We inhaled and exhaled on counts of five, while the goats loudly groaned and munched on the hay. They climbed over our mats, stepped on our legs, and brushed against us like cats on scratching posts. As I drew my hands to my heart, a brown goat with a white fur on its belly slowly crept towards my mat.
“Go away, Wynonna.” I closed my eyes, hoping that when I reopened them, the goat would have found a more willing yoga partner.
“Shift your feet forward into a push-up position.” The instructor demonstrated. My elbows shook and my hips begged to droop. “Now, shift your weight to the right and raise your left arm towards the sky.” As I copied the pose, I felt Wynonna Judd’s slimy spit on my right elbow, which knocked me out of a side plank. She must have mistaken me for a plant. To her disappointment, I was neither leafy nor green nor capable of photosynthesis.
On the second vinyasa, a young family passed by slowly, crossing to a pristine, red granite headstone. I was afraid they’d mistake our sun salutations and warrior poses for some goat-worshipping cult, but they seemed not to notice. The son, no older than twelve, carried a bouquet at his side. When the boy lowered the bouquet alongside the granite, the white roses and lilies drooped and the eucalyptus curled into a frown.
I reached my arms towards the sky, then stretched them to my toes. The air wasn’t musty or gritty, as I’d expected it to be. Apart from the goat business, it was as fresh as if standing on a beach and the ground gave me that gentle sinking feeling of soft sand. With each repetition of the sequence, I gradually dissolved my awareness of the mausoleum, the rows of headstones, and even the bleating goats.
I copied Naomi as she tucked her hands behind her head and pushed her hips toward the sky, dropping her head to her mat. Finally comfortable, I closed my eyes and breathed in and out. Wynonna reemerged to double check that I wasn’t a plant, this time licking my face.
“We practice the final resting pose to celebrate our aliveness,” the instructor explained while leading us into savasana. It is a pose also referred to as the corpse pose, because it involves laying on your back, eyes closed, with your arms gently at your sides. A few goats laid down in a restful trance. Naomi watched with delighted wonderment when Reba walked on her stomach. Wynonna walked toward the veiled angel statue, turned around, and laid her head on my calf.
Our namaste was interrupted by the farmer’s reentrance. Dolly bleated from the passenger window, sending a seismic echo from the baby goats. As I rolled up my soggy yoga mat, I watched the goats trail onto the truck. The farmer, like a rural, less jolly Santa, called them by name, “Kacey, Miranda, Faith, Patsy, Loretta!” After calling all three of the Dixie Chicks, he determined his tribe was all accounted for, and all had their spines still intact.
It took me twelve minutes to get to Nonna’s grave. Five minutes of stalling in the pen, fussing with the straps of my sandals was followed by another five minutes of Naomi pleading with me to cross the veiled angel. It only took two minutes to actually walk the five hundred feet. I placed a pressed lily on the headstone and silently wished Nonna a happy birthday.
Rowan wakes to sunlight filtering through thin white curtains, pulled together uselessly
against the soft rays. They sway in the breeze that comes through windows that Ari had cracked
open last night, now that the nights were warm. They had wanted to listen to the first crickets of
the season, and Rowan had fallen asleep with their song in his ears.
Ari’s hair is in his face, and he brushes away the wild, dark curls to sit up. They are still
asleep next to him, and his movement hadn’t been enough to wake them. He looks out the
window. The crickets have been replaced with birds, and a particularly loud one convinces
Rowan to go downstairs and start the coffee, where all of the windows are closed.
Ari walks down just as Rowan is pouring the hot water into the french press.
“Can I do it?”
Rowan lets them take control. He knows how much they love using the french press on
the weekends, like how they enjoy pressing the elevator buttons. Their easy hands press the
coffee grounds steadily downwards. For a moment, all Rowan does is breathe, in and out, and
watch his partner’s hands. The sunlight has reached the kitchen, and everything from the wood to
the freckles on Ari’s cheeks seem to be glowing. Rowan breathes, and wraps his arms around
himself in a hug.
Ari finishes with the coffee, and looks at Rowan. They smile.
“Good morning.” They say formally as they lean back against the counter, mouth smiling
even wider. He smiles at their teasing tone.
“Good morning,” he replies, and they push off of the counter and close the distance
between the two of them, wrapping their arms around Rowan’s own. He signs into the embrace,
and then laughs to himself.
“What is it?”
He laughs again. “Nothing, just... breakfast burrito.”
Ari bursts into laughter as well. “That’s so stupid. That’s SO stupid.”
“No look, I’m wrapped up! Like a breakfast burrito!”
“Shut up!” They say, and bury their head into his chest, still laughing. Their laughter
fades into content smiles as the two of them rock back and forth for a few long moments, arms
The fluorescent light bulb in the bathroom does no favors to Rowan’s headache as he
looks at his hair in the mirror. He passes a hand through it, blonde strands reaching high above
his fingers. It’s getting long again. He opens the cabinet door to find the clippers, and is instead
greeted with anxiety medication. The orange bottle stands out against the white wood of the
cabinet, and all Rowan can think about is the extra pill currently in the bottle that was supposed
to be swallowed yesterday. Ari opens the bathroom door just has he closes the cabinet, and they
say, “You know what we should do tomorrow?”
“Use that orange juicer your mom gave us.”
“Yeah, let’s go the store. Oh! Also I have something I wanna get.”
As they walk out of the bathroom, Rowan closes his eyes when he passes the sharp white
light. Ari is the one to turn it off.
The shopping cart’s front left wheel is broken. Rowan doesn’t know why Ari told him to
grab it on the way in, they were only getting oranges and whatever is is that Ari wanted. But
now, Rowan is grateful, because the rattling of the wheels is vibrating up through the handle and
into his hands, grounding him in the moment. The two of them make their way through the aisles
until they get to the craft section, where Ari hops down off the front of the cart and crouches
below the fancy ballpoint pens. The cart veers left slightly, and Rowan has to pull it back
towards his partner. Ari makes a noise of triumph, and they emerge with a plastic container of
golden glitter, made dull and abrasive by the sharp white lights of the store.
“I’m gonna put glitter in my hair!” they announce, and place the plastic container on the
child seat of the cart. Rowan doesn’t respond, opting instead to shift his weight off of his arms,
off of the cart’s handle. He feels the weight sink back into his feet, and Ari asks, “Is there
anything you need?”
The two end up wandering through a couple more aisles, with Rowan pushing the cart
and Ari walking to his right. Before he can ask about going home, he finds himself in the
kitchenware section. Further down an aisle, a knife reflects clinical white light, dull and abrasive.
Rowan turns left and walks toward it, leaving Ari behind. It’s a chef’s knife, with a golden blade
gently curving out of a black handle. Rowan puts it in the cart just as Ari catches up behind him.
“What’s that?” they ask, giving him a small smile.
“It’s a... um,” he pauses to read the packaging. “It’s a Chroma Katsumi Chef’s Knife.”
He knows this isn’t an answer, and he knows that Ari knows this isn’t an answer when they say,
“Oh, ok. Look, it matches the glitter!” Rowan looks, and it does. Both items gleam in the
bottom of the cart, but Rowan’s gaze is repeatedly torn from the glitter to stare at the knife. Dull
Rowan’s head feels distant, disconnected as he grabs a red mesh bag of navel oranges.
There’s too many people at the checkout for him to feel comfortable, and the squeaky broken
wheel turns left, away from Ari standing on the right, guiding Rowan across the bare laminate
tiles of the floor and around the bare white industrial shelves and through the lights overhead that
are too bright and too white and Rowan just wants to go home.
The sun dances across the bathroom tiles, but all Rowan feels is the cold hard surface
under his bare feet. He reaches past ignored anxiety medication to easily find the clippers, and
it’s the buzzing of Rowan shaving his head that wakes Ari. They pad into the bathroom with
socked feet, kiss Rowan’s shoulder where hair hasn’t had the chance to fall, and playfully rub the
area where it has. Rowan’s head hurts and it feels like he’s floating, and he closes the cabinet
door before his partner can realize that there are far too many pills still in the bottle.
When Ari finishes shaking the golden glitter into their dark curls, they offer some to
Rowan, who declines, citing the shortness of his newly-shorn hair, not citing the fact that there is
a familiar static cloud separating him from the world. His head hurts.
“It looks better on you, anyway.” He says, and they smile at that. The glitter catches the
glow of their cheeks and spins light to bounce off of the bathroom tiles, reflecting back to frame
their face. For a second, Rowan swears they have a halo.
Ari opens the windows and a gentle wind moves with the light, shining onto Rowan’s
back as he methodically cuts oranges in halves, the juicer sitting patiently to the side. Sunlight
warmly reflects off of the golden knife in his sticky hands. Ari sits on the kitchen counter next to
him, their fuzzy-socked feet swinging between the sunbeams. It is the kind of mid-morning
where everything is in comfortable slow-motion, contrasting the pounding of Rowan’s heart.
He cuts through an orange, the blade making a dull thunk against the wooden cutting
“Why did you need that knife?” Ari asks lightly. Their feet swing back and forth, heels
hitting the cabinets each time. It was a carefully conversational question, but he doesn’t answer.
The blade slides through another orange. If Rowan is being honest, it isn’t the best knife.
He had tried sharpening it, but the gold began to flake off so he quickly stopped. He places the
halves in a bowl and grabs another.
“I didn’t really. I just liked it.”
Ari nods, lifting their gaze to look out the window. Instantly Rowan feels cold static
creep into the empty space their gaze leaves on his form.
Rowan’s feet are cold, bare on the tiled floor. His socks are just upstairs, but his hands
are sticky with orange juice, and the knife feels glued to his hand, just as his eyes are glued to the
knife. It is hot and heavy in his hand, and through the static in his head he slices an orange.
Ari’s hands wrap around the edge of the counter they’re sitting on, and they lean down to
be eye level with him. They brush a dark curl out of their face, and Rowan sees the glitter
transfer to their hands.
Rowan only has time to look at them for a second as he responds, before turning back to
yet another orange, and yet another cut, and yet another layer of clinical static floating him away
from the atmosphere of the warm golden sunlight hitting the warm golden glitter in Ari’s hair
and Ari’s eyes and Ari and-
“Slow down,” they say, and Rowan turns to look at them through the haze of gold and
orange. His head is floating again, and the only thing tying him to his body is the way they look
at him. “Your hair can hold the glitter, you know. If you wanted it.”
He blinks, and stares back at them, brown eyes meeting blue, golden knife resting on top
of an orange.
“You don’t have to keep using that knife if it’s not sharp.” A rounded indent appears
underneath the knife, releasing tiny spurts of scent from the skin of the orange. It doesn’t break.
The gentle wind has stopped and it’s hot again, so hot, because the windows are open and
Ari is staring at him and their eyes are brown and their hair has glitter.
His skin pulls away from the handle of the knife like a bandaid being ripped off after too
long, and Ari takes his hand. They crinkle their nose at the sticky orange juice on his skin and
say “Ew,” and smile as they push him towards the sink.
is a non-binary writer from Baltimore currently working on their bachelor's degree in English. They enjoy strong coffee, big jackets, and crying over actual play podcasts. You can find them @knifeocean on twitter.
I could not choose my family, and
if they could have chosen, I know
they would not have chosen me.
But I can choose my friends and here,
at 2 AM, I know I have chosen well.
Soon, our downstairs neighbors
will come pounding on our door.
We are too loud for these
high moon times, these
stillness save the owl times.
But for now no one
dares interrupt us, and we
are plainly joyous.
Our laughter knows no shame.
As I throw my head back
and let giggles rise
from my stomach into my mouth,
like soda pop,
I know that no matter the cruelty
I imagine for myself in the morning.
The hurt to be performed against
my own body or that of the ants
that infest our living room
I will be loved
like the sun loves.
With a warmth, consistency
that’s hard to look at, somedays.
"Cam Kelley is a poet, fiction writer, aspiring teacher, and undergraduate student from Southern Maryland. She loves to stand on the beach with her face towards the sun, and create poetry that generates a similar warmth. When not writing, she can be found baking or working on her senior thesis. She has been published in the Scholastic Best Teen Writing of 2016 and Left of the Lake Magazine."
i asked followers and friends to tell me why they’re alive. why they stayed. this is what happened.
thank you for your life and presence. stay safe. stay alive.
Would you like to contribute to a second edition of this post? Feel free to send your own answer to our email or via social media. You will be kept anonymous.
This post marks World Suicide Prevention Day. Today we are launching a new space, called Safe & Brave. This will be an ongoing space for poetry, fiction, essay, and visual arts, full of safety, bravery, and staying alive. To contribute, send your work to firstname.lastname@example.org, the subject line SAFE. We look forward to working with you.
a space to roam freely
you are necessary and brave, and you are strong. you are smart. you are worth every step it takes to stay alive. you are capable, significant, and brave, even when it feels like you’re not.