Dog Days 2018: Year of the Dog
On Berteau Avenue
Lines so deep in his face they are small ravines.
A few yellowed teeth ride the wave of his jaw,
as he tells me about his trip with his father
to a greyhound track in the sixties. His hand
strokes my dog’s long face. She leans into him.
“We were leaving, and he said to me, ‘This
is the losers’ pen.’ And sure enough, a guy comes out
and puts them down, one by one,” his free hand
a gun now, recoiling one, two, three times.
“Twenty of them,” he says. “I said, ‘Get me the hell
out of here, dad.’” He shakes his head. Eyes wet
with cold or old sorrow revivified, he looks down
at my sweet greyhound. “You’re safe now,” he coos.
“You’ve got a good home.” And as if on cue,
she peels away from his legs to lean
against mine. He returns to his shovel,
boots crunching on fresh, white snow.
How to Receive Bad News
Fill your mouth with stones from the radiologist’s
initial report: aggressive lesion, osteosarcoma, primary
bone neoplasia, metastasis. Spit their foul weight
at the sky as you attempt to bargain with earless gods
for the health of a dog, a stone-headed mutt
that has bulled sturdy definitions into your empty
hands. Threaten to capsize at the sight of your
snarl-fanged protector heaving her now-crooked
weight toward you, her pain a bell that peals
in her throat as she settles her heavy trust
into your lap, eyes banners of belief that you make
all things better, that your useless fingers can pull
agony out of the leaf-quaking shoulder that was
once strong enough to carry you back to yourself.
And when your futile mouth is empty of its new
many-syllabled poisons, rinse it with a litany of please
and no and not her and not this and anything, I will do
anything and please and please and please.
I Confide in the Goddess Artemis About My Divorce
and tell her that if I had been given the Judgment
of Paris, she would have that golden apple
even though she didn’t claim it for herself.
Pensive for a moment, she says she doesn’t know
how she would have rewarded Paris—or me—
for such a gift. Aphrodite offered the most beautiful
woman in the world, but what would she give?
Knowledge of the woods, of animals? The ability
to see a man like Actaeon torn apart by hounds
and remain unmoved? Perhaps, I say, you could offer
the moon’s cool light whenever it is needed.
She nods, but we both know it isn’t that simple.
I tell her that once, years ago in northern Wisconsin,
a boy went hunting and came back to tell me he’d
written my name with deer’s blood in the snow.
She smiles and says that no matter who is given
the apple, no one’s choice is ever right,
the reward is always a little too much.
Jack the Dog
Yesterday I opened the door
from the garage into the kitchen
and a black dog, knee high,
was there to greet me, cheerful,
with triangular ears. It made me
so happy! I was surprised to find
he was just a black plastic bag
full of white plastic bags hanging
from the door knob, ready to take
back to the store for recycling.
You have to understand he was there.
I named him Jack—Jack the Dog.
“Well, What Can You Do About It?”
You shouldn’t look to challenge Cerberus,
but it’s worse
to be a scarecrow.
Fight two of those hellhounds
with nothing but a pin—six heads
are better than none.
Call this a skin-and-bones protest,
say, “It’s a song,
and you can’t best
whatever king is reigning,”
but not today. The people are gathered.
Sometimes they win.