Dog Days 2016
I would not put a price on the first dog
I loved. I would not pawn her triangular ears
or the food stuck in her jaw
that I massaged loose. What is dear
cannot be coined or managed by a till.
Her sharp bark was reserved for motion
in her domain, whether man or squirrel.
Her paws could not bear the cold
ground covered with snow. No exchange
for those quirks. No exchange for
her prance or the turn of her head.
Blame me for sentimentality, that old bore.
When she died, I reduced her life to ashes.
I keep her close with no cash value.
Good Wife of Hunan
You knew I’d been up all night startling the wok
and I’d been up for ages grooming the dog star
of ticks, throwing a tarp over all that barking
for the sake of the neighbors and cosmic harmony.
Clearly I’d been up with my measuring stick
by the river, which chilled my toe bones and triggered
that crying-jag phone call to my mother two monasteries
west of here, my mother who was glad to have girls.
Spring petals fell like snow into the year of the monkey.
Snow fell like snow into the year of the cat.
And it seemed I’d be up startling the wok
for generations and it seemed I was going to live
to see 10,000 or at least the day you dropped dead
drunk from the jug of plum wine and I’d shown
the barking star who’s master.
with pick and cross and fistful of
cement, tres leches past los arcos
and roadside hut where people
gather fishing snorkeling ziplining
tour booths and taxis, that they continue
on, intersection and window with tattered
curtain now in cloud and sprinkling
key lime, i take that for that same
black dog i saw a year ago and cross
behind the sign to el edén and how
to even imagine, carrying
one to plant at your death site.
there is only one place with a bend
and a straightaway like that
paredón with hanging plants, opposite
split and belted chain link fence (beige
wheat fawn dust, nutmeg and redwood
rust now) between that bend and that
straightaway, on this little road
past mismaloya; for sure
you will jump out from behind
that fence or landslide down that hill
abracadabra! is what you’ll cry
a herd of dogs, two mules and a man
mountains and mist. puppies also
There is a pain behind my right eye and why do I have a dog? Why couldn’t I have been born male like my neighbor who has his own black lab, old now, and slow, and would he be willing to trade his animal for my apeshit spaceship? Where is the rain we were promised, and why Afghanistan? Is atheism normal? Why do people tempt death running out into traffic to catch the tram? At my stop the trains run every five minutes. Every five minutes near my house there’s a squirrel that wants to kill me and why is my daughter so nice and so nosy? I have eaten an expired egg. When will I die?
When I couldn’t find the way,
I thought of Blackdog,
the blackest dog I’d ever seen,
so black that on a dark night
I couldn’t see her
though I knew she was beside me.
I didn’t know where I was,
and stood on the corner, lost,
remembering her brown eyes,
the muscular tail waving,
the joy that made her butt wiggle,
and the way she taught me
living is all about love,
and more—that one must
live fully in the moment,
like a dog, by instinct,
following one’s nose,
pitiful, tenderhearted, humble.
Then I closed my eyes,
wanting the tug of the leash
in my hand, the pull, knowing
she was the clever one,
where we should go,
days when we ventured forth
to walk in woods
or stroll through our small town.
Even in the battered blue car
when together we traveled everywhere,
I would turn
to her sitting beside me,
black dog looking straight ahead
and trusting the road,
staring through the windshield
as if only she really knew
where it was we were going,
as if even then she knew I was lost
but would help me find the way.
[first published in Cultural Weekly and forthcoming in Flight to Madrid, Copper Canyon Press]