Instinctual, Nicole Stearns
It still had its spots
when I startled it from the underbrush.
It still lived in simple declarative sentences.
Where was its mother?
Probably dead in the gauzy autumn
light of a new hunting season.
Or worse: listening nearby.
I yelled for the dog,
as the bleating turned to gurgle.
Nothing to be done but ride on,
gray ghost slinking up behind
and spooking me—
her long tongue, dripping scarlet.
Not ashamed of what she did,
but of displeasing me—
her blind accomplice
in the fated hedge.
The brown boxer hops along
on three good ones.
I can’t help myself
accident or birth?
His master chats
on her phone, pausing
as the squashed-face dog
sniffs a fieldstone—
though he certainly
doesn’t lift a leg to pee—
before galumphing off
to the next diversion,
his flaw undulating
like happiness or nausea.
How long is it polite
to study the extraordinary,
pretending it’s not?
I watch the dog’s widowed hind
for signs of exhaustion
His owner glances up and smiles.
I smile back, bending
to adjust a collar, then a sock.
My own unleashed Lab
can almost keep up
with a cantering horse.
Simon doesn’t care
about the difference.
He trots up
to the boxer, sniffing
at the fleshy stump,
before veering toward water
with me in tow.
At first I think dogs,
chain-choked to stakes in backyard sand lots,
behind the double wides and wrap-arounds.
Mine stays pinned to my side
at nightcheck, her neck light blinking
like a maglite prowling shadows.
Normally, she’d be dashing off
for rabbits or other trouble:
I blink slowly, like a barn owl,
though nothing’s to see.
I even rotate my head,
as the invisible dogs keep up
their maniacal anthem in surround sound,
score for the dream to come.
I’ve procrastinated a lifetime
and now my pencil keeps breaking
re-working the “D” I received forty years ago
plagiarizing a paper on the Fuhrer.
I wake sweating from phantom nerves, not menopause.
Relax, you have the rest of your life
to prove yourself trustworthy.
Night slithers into bed
beside me. A long one ahead.
Without you, I can roll over
without rejecting love,
l can listen to the dogs still yapping at the shiver moon.
They’re not from around these parts anymore than I am,
which is as good a reason as any
to hear what they have to say
from their hysterical horizon.
Mine wakes every few refrains
from the bottom of the bed,
with ears pricked and a short staccato grunt.
Her ghosts begin to fade when the night peepers
start up and the sky stretches its limbs,
one eye open. As mine is.
Or maybe they decide to call it quits,
after their nighttime frenzy, huddling next
to the nearest long leaf or blackjack oak,
burrowing under a bed of ginny pine needles,
or slinking in to the den they’ve dug
in the Miocene sand.
Wherever they go, the night goes with them.
Wherever they go, they go quietly, those damn dogs.
Excuse me, not dogs: coyotes.
A term that still scares this survivor
even as I bark like mad at my flat screen sky.
My Dog Prepares to Grow Older
I don’t like outliving my dog.
Or even the next pup, if I’m lucky.
In fact, I wish I were my dog,
living his whole life with the one and only
me, who, yes, grows a little older,
my fatty tumors
until I feel
when she grooms me,
or even moves to touch,
after her first, languorous glass,
during the one they call, the lonely hour,
the only one in her day,
where she’ll take the time
to taste, heal, feel
the way I am inexorably changing.
And preparing to leave her.
Julia Wendell‘s most recent collection of poems is Take This Spoon. Recent work appears in Poet Lore, Muse/A, Consequence, Revolution John, and elsewhere. Her new memoir, Come to the X, will be published by Galileo Press in late 2018. She is currently busy making video poems, which combine her love of the piano and poetry. She lives in South Carolina, in the heart of horse country.