2020

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I turn off the TV, and the yellow dog
that never cared all that much for me
paces briefly past the loveseat
before jumping up to splay
her body across my aging legs

And I can’t help but feel her disappointment
that my legs are not my wife’s
and my feet have no pink slippers
and there are no balls of yarn
being wound by rhythmic hands

I think I must be getting a taste
for what my wife felt every evening
sitting in this chair with our yellow dog
and it really is quite nice, being chosen
to be a splayed upon companion

Trapped by a dog across my legs
because I dare not move a muscle
and risk disturbing the old girl
who spent the day pacing the house
looking in vain for a lost mother

I’ll never be able to explain
in terms a dog could understand
that I couldn’t bring her back home
and that they shut off the ventilator
before I was even allowed to say goodbye

This house is as quiet as clay
the furnace seems to have gone out
because it feels colder somehow
yellow dog is my last reason to live
and she isn’t breathing anymore

It occurs to me in these numb, small hours
that my wife would say, as a poem, it’s cliché
“but it has good bones,” she’d offer up
and I’d joke about “bones” in a dog poem
before heading out to the barn for a shovel.

Learning Love from a Dog

Learning Love from a Dog

My hound dog, Ellie, was abused
by a cop before I rescued her
from her rescuer, an abused puppy,
unable to restrain her bladder
all day long. The cop’s wife begged
the pound to reclaim her,
to save her from her savior.
That’s where I come in –
a hero – they say things like that
so you will take a dog home.

Still, Ellie couldn’t hold it
at my house either, she told me,
with a cowering whimper,
one need only care enough to listen –
and every night I carried her
down the stairs, out the door,
placing her gently on the grass,
where she proceeded to lollygag
for a frustrating minute or two
before doing her business –
it went like that for two months…

Eventually she made the trek herself,
and these many years later, still,
she wakes me – with a bark these days,
and in the stretch of these fortunate years,
my forties gave way to my fifties,
a slow event marked by back pain,
aching knees, stiff joints all over,
and for every one of those years,
Ellie has aged seven, they say,
always wagging her tail, graying
face unaware she is now older than me.

Soon, I will lift her into the bed
when she can no longer leap,
and I’ll carry her in my human way,
down the stairs when she tells me,
each painful step a gift to the old girl,
and I will set her lightly in the grass
where I have no doubt that she’ll delay,
sniffing the yard, stopping occasionally
to look up the mountain for a rabbit,
and she can take as long as she likes
because she is older than I am,
wiser in the way she quickly lives,
fully present every waking minute.

Ellie is now the rescuer, teaching
calm grace before the setting sun,
wagging her tail when I look at her,
the way she never changes, always
living and loving completely.

Slumber in the Valley

Slumber in the Valley

Johnstown is sleeping
except for me, awake –
gazing at the rooftops
in the valley below
my old cliffside home,
and if I squint my eyes
just a little, blurring
the wintry spectacle,
now a Christmas village,
I delight in imagining
all the sleepy-eyed
schoolchildren, waking
to my January vision,
another downy morning,
a gift without words.

Johnstown Steel Mills

Johnstown Steel Mills

The vacant Johnstown mills
aren’t sagging dinosaurs,
nor relics of the past;
can’t you see them?
They are bracing athletes –
sprinters kneeling in starting blocks,
waiting for the shot
to light their roaring furnaces
again for a grateful nation.

And while a city waits, we poets
focus on the tender details –
a stone wall leaning inward,
heat lightning in the distance,
the way a dripping ceiling
seems to drum the beginning
of an American anthem.

There is nothing melancholy
in the stillness of a mill,
only anticipation and pride –
call it Johnstown hope,
resilient, silent, and heavy,
always ready
always ready.

Rewind

He was 3 years old when I unloaded,
Flailing my arms like a cinema cliché,
Spanking and reciting…

A smack with eve-ry an-gry syll-a-ble.

It happened all at once – I became like my mother,
as though I were programmed to rerun,
And after… he looked at me like I was a stranger.

That night he flinched when I tucked him in.

For the price of a broken VCR,
I taught him to fear me –
to trust me less than the dog.

Dear Lord, – Rewind.