I couldn’t get this poem out of my head today. I’m unsure as to why, really, but I woke up knowing I was going to post it. Did it rain last night? No. Do I even own a dog anymore? No. In other words, there was nothing that triggered it. The subconscious is an odd animal sometimes. It’s as simple as that. The truth is that I’m not a dog person. Don’t get me wrong; dogs are great. They’re loyal and adorable. My allergies, however, prohibit me from owning one, which is why I’ve spent the last 12 years of so living with cats. No, I’m not “crazy cat guy” (which, by the way, seems to be a designation assigned only to women, oddly); rather, there’s something “easier” about cats. I guess I’d admire their self-sufficiency (says the guy who complains to no end about emptying their litterbox).
Speaking of dog poems, I have to mention/recommend checking out the great Stephen Dobyns collection, Black Dog, Red Dog. I had a chance to study under Dobyns for one semester of grad school at Emerson College. It was, hands down, one of the worst workshops I’d ever been affiliated with. Why? Because it comprised students who wouldn’t open their goddamn mouths. Workshops are meant to be interactive, people. And even though Stephen could be, well, intimidating at times, his value was completely underappreciated and underutilized. One thing I specifically remember was him taking some personal time to read through a stack of my poetry. He not only did so, but provided a ton of helpful feedback which I continue to utilize, mostly dealing with form. And for that, Stephen, I hereby dedicate today’s poem to you.
In the Sunday morning air the smell
of last night’s thunderstorm, of earthworms
wrinkled and set in place stiff as twigs,
plastered to sidewalks where they sought refuge
from the rain. I breathe it in deeply, anything
better than the bourbon still wafting off my father,
whose fat fingers struggle to keep the bat
firm in one hand, our whimpering dog in the other.
He says it’s time to put the damn thing down,
give his mangy body back to whatever cruel god
landed him here. I don’t want to understand
what it is my father means, but even the dog knows,
and to pretend insults us both. I want it to have
some bit of dignity before my old man
so terribly breaks his bones to dust,
gives him over to the hole he dug the night before,
now full of rain water and needing to be re-dug.
But all I can do is snivel like that filthy beast,
look away, look back again, certain we’ll
all of us commit ourselves to Earth, or not.