Dog Days 2017
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was part of a 3-ship Spanish expedition that got caught in a storm in 1528 off the Gulf Coast of what is now Florida. He and three other survivors walked across what we now call North America for 8 years until they re-encountered Spaniards in 1536. I’ve read the original Spanish and the English translation of his account and I lift words and phrases from both into this poem.
For Now, Let’s Call this Apocalypse
after we ate the dogs
we walked in
water in a very great
woods we found houses
behind some trees the trees
to see us and told us they
had great hunger placing
their hands on our faces
and bodies passing their hands
over their own faces and
bodies they entreated us not
to go still
we gathered many
leaves and left
What were you listening to, when death
carried you off in the dead of the night?
Was it the memory of my voice offering a treat?
The yowling of a cat in heat? The creak
of the bed of upstairs where your humans slept?
What reached you on the still air of the front room?
Perhaps it was death itself, padding softly
toward you on its treacherous feet,
that made your ears stand tall as upended canoes.
The white gold of your fur had etched a soft glow
into the dim dawning of our morning when we found you,
your legs stretched outward as if bracing for the next phase.
But no—your lips were slightly parted in the hint of a smile—
hopeful as always about what might be coming.
The Dead Boy as Artist
Mother needs to go to the hospital
for something called gallstones.
You no-good kids did this to me,
she says to my brother and me.
The dead boy runs to his room,
tears already staining his face.
I say, No, mommy,
I didn’t throw stones at you.
Get lost, Mother shouts.
I’m sick of you.
I hide in my closet.
Only five, I have perfected
crying myself to sleep
atop a pile of too-small shoes.
A stray dog comes to visit our house
while Mother is having an operation.
My brother names the dog Ricky,
feeds him French fries.
Can we keep Ricky? I say to Daddy.
Only if your mother says okay, he answers.
The dead boy paints a picture of Ricky
so close to real, it’s almost like a photo.
Daddy takes the painting as a present
when he visits Mother in the hospital.
I didn’t know you could draw that good,
I say to my brother.
Neither did I, he says.
When mother comes home,
she finds the dog Ricky
sleeping in her bed
and doesn’t scream at us.
Art is power, the dead boy tells me.
All my drawings look like fried eggs.
[first published in Section 8]
And check out the internal links in the above posts for more dog love and dog wisdom.