Several years ago a local magazine held a poetry contest. I didn’t win but a friend of mine did–and his was the better poem–so I went with him to the awards ceremony. I started talking to one of the judges who told me how much he enjoyed my poem. Well, you lose some, you lose some. It’s October and the Moon is waxing and today happens to be the birthday of both Dylan Thomas (born 1914) and Sylvia Plath (born 1932) I thought I’d wax poetic, since that makes poetic all shiny, and also share this poem again:
He, my best friend and I, were just bouncing
A fuzzy gray ball that had lost most
Of its bounce back and forth. The dog,
The big sheepdog who lived next door,
Was in its own yard, just on the periphery.
It was always there like the broken sink
In the vacant lot we went to sometimes
To look down at our houses. And then
It jumped at him, knocked him down, that
Engine in its throat humming loud enough
To be heard over him screaming. I ran.
I couldn’t tell where he was under the dog.
I’d been told not to run, that was wrong,
But what was I supposed to do? His mother
Was already coming out right at me
And I got behind her. The dog was gone.
And then he was gone.
The big blue car came
Out from behind the house and he went in,
Still screaming, a towel pressed to his face
With a stain starting to come through.
I heard enough from what his mother told mine
To see what happened, why the dog was gone.
Two men from the pound came and stood
On his porch and stared at themselves
In the man’s wraparound sunglasses. I’d seen him
Through the slits in the fence that kept his back
Yard from the neighborhood, so I could see him
In his white t-shirt, V-neck, telling them they
Were welcome to take the dog if they were willing
To come in and get it. And they said they’d be back.
That was the summer of the drought. Toward school’s
End I watched the corn come up emerald then turn gold
In a field just past the road my street disappeared into.
A year later the field itself was replaced by turnkey
Condominiums, every other one painted yellow.
That was the summer my quarter-Cherokee grandmother
Pulled down from the overhead crawlspace an old book
Of tribal stories and I learned that in the beginning
The wolf and the man used to sit together by the fire,
Until the dog came down from the hills and drove
The wolf away. Now the wolf lives alone in the hills.
I had to pee. My dog and I were out
Together in the summer night, following each
Other and finding our way in the dark by smell and sound.
If I went back inside I’d lose my night vision
So I dropped my shorts by a tree and let go, the stream
Reflecting the pieces of streetlamp that came through
The trees. I couldn’t see the mark I left but I knew
It was there. My territory. I was zipping back up
When I heard my dog barking in the street. I ran,
And there she was with the man who lived two doors up
Pinned against his car. She went after him like a stranger.
Dammit! You’d better get this dog away from me
Or I swear I’ll do somethin’! I’ll kill it! I swear!
He swore and leaned at me while I grabbed my dog
And put my face in her ruff and pulled her back to me.
It was time to go in. The next day I was in my front yard
When he came home. He came over and didn’t look
At me, just said, Son, I wanna apologize about last night.
I’m sorry. I just wasn’t myself. You understand. He raised
His fist and something gold flew from it, sparkling
And I caught a butterscotch medallion. I understood.
I knew more than he realized, had known since the first
Week of summer when I was coming up the back steps
To water the bean plants I’d brought home from school
In a paper cup where they’d sprout and die. I heard
My father talking, telling someone who’d dropped by
Something so serious I knew I shouldn’t be listening.
He’d been drinking all day.
Maybe around sunset he decided he
Wanted fried chicken for supper and sent
His wife out to get it. We hadn’t been here
That long and didn’t know any of this
Was going on. She was gone too long to suit
Him or something, I really don’t know, but while
She was gone he decided he was going to kill
Her when she got back. She
Got away somehow and came down to our
House. We let her in and he stood there on
The porch and yelled and swore. The kids were
Gone that night, away at camp. I called
The cops and it took eight of them to get him
Into one of their cars. She stayed with us
That night and told us, It’s over, he
Won’t do this to me ever again. We
Didn’t know it had happened before.
We saw them next week at the pool
Holding hands. She smiled, but he wouldn’t
Look at us. I thought, Never again.
They’re lucky it wasn’t worse than it ended
Up being with all those guns he has in there.
This was news to me. I thought all attics
Were the same, webby with years of old clothes
And moth dust and naked bulbs over rivers
Of cotton candy insulation. Now I saw the inside
Of the three-cornered roof with blue-steel bars
Marching along the walls like corrugated wallpaper
Or bare columns propping the whole structure.
On the dead-end street late in summer
The world was hot and thick all night. Not even the moon
Frozen outside my window could cool it. In drought
Wind in the leaves sounds like footsteps.
You wake up believing someone else is in the house
And the phone is in the other room or dead.
There at the yard’s edge the jingle of metal
On metal means tags for rabies, or just
House keys, someone else coming home. Across
The street is the opal of a doorbell
Or a cigarette of someone blindfolded.
The movement I see in the window is my hands
Washing the dishes, the reflection imposed on
The brown stubble of the yard. If I went out
Water on my hands would freeze and break.
I keep all the doors locked from inside.