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Two Dogs 

Pursed blooms of manzanita and blood-red buds of poison oak, are you untouched by the death of a dog beneath your limbs? Does the odor of flesh receding enter you, and if so, what does it tell you? My small brown dog and I are offended and curious. We push between you, find four paws fully intact, the suede texture of pads, the yellow curved nails ready as ever to run, eyeless sockets, twisted neck, missing lower jaw, upper canines with nothing to stop them below. On her back, in a layer of last autumn's oak leaves, the dog's haunches are splayed wide, breast fur peeled back into acorn caps, sprouting vetch, purple, beside a brindled scrap of skin. Rib cage holds not a heart and lungs but a toyon seedling with its toothed leaves eating up through that striped shade of thin bones. Living dog straddles the dead dog, his paw scrapes at her paw, waiting for a response. His nose, frantic, skims the last margins of her ravaged body. He sits in moss, sniffing the air, cocks his head, turns wet brown eyes to my blue, whining just once, meaning, I don't like this. We watch a black carpet of movement, another world of dark tiny lives, dismantling her, crumbs of muscle and marrow, pulsing away, pouring into a ring of cream and cinnamon-centered mushrooms. Plucking one from its foamy sac, I study its gills, stipe, sticky cap. Some type of Cortinarius. We'll call it, dog mushroom. Crouching, I nestle that cap, cool and damp, over the hollow below the brow ridge, giving her an eye of fungus. My puzzled little dog, graying at his muzzle, licks my knuckles. Let's go. He leaps up, lopes up a hill, pausing to look back until I catch up. Leathered leaves of manzanita, thank you for closing behind us. All morning we walk the woods, his pink tongue lapping in sunlight. There is this one secret, and we carry it, subtle as a splinter.

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