Almost Elegy for the Old Yellow Dog

by Leah Nielsen


At 3 a.m., the yellow dog comes to remind me
she is more important than poetry. Her whine,

I’m sure of it, says, I’m dying. Any day now.
And I love on her and settle her on

to a makeshift blanket-bed and tell her I know.
I worry about her death, too. And return

to writing while she snores above the whir
of the window fan and the hum of the air filter

it makes no sense to have on if one is busy inviting
pollen into the room with said fan. And she continues

while I debate how to work my friend’s video
from her fieldwork—an octopus inking her during a dive—

into some kind of important metaphor.
She has a clip of a jellyfish, too, that looks pink

in the sea light. If I were the type of woman to have a spirit
animal—for the record, no way—I would enlist the jellyfish.

I’d come back as one. Float my days away.
I could be the innocuous kind in Palau’s Southern Lagoon

I learned about on reality TV—but I’d rather
be the type who can sting a bitch when she needs to.

I haven’t got it in me in this life. The dog gets it.
She doesn’t have a spirit animal either. Just a jones for popcorn,

which just today I learned is bad for her. Like raisins. Like grapes.
All of which I’ve been feeding her—in small amounts

and infrequently—for the ten years we’ve had her,
figuring it beat the hell out of whatever she was eating

when we found her—emaciated, tits dragging the ground,
open sores and mange, the remnants of a rope around her neck—

under a gazebo in the rain in an Alabama park
where men traded sex for drugs.

Try not to write her backstory. It’s enough to know she’s pudgy
in a way that doesn’t much concern the vet, that she’ll pretend

she cannot. walk. another. step. then take off after a possum
with the speed and agility of a running back, come running back

when she damn well pleases, which sure as hell is not when you call her.
Lalalalalala, she says, paws up to her ears, I can’t hear you.  

She doesn’t care about these late-night ramblings,
about the cocktail of meds that has me up but still coughing—

five nights in a row—that has me banished
to the guest bedroom while the other dog usurps

my place next to the husband, both of them snoring, trust me,
though you know I can’t possibly hear them from here.

Hey, she says, I’m not dying tonight. It was popcorn, not antifreeze.
Before long, dawn relieves the streetlamp, and a warbler begins

the chorus of birds other poets find beautiful.
I pull the fan from the window, shut it and the curtains,

heft her up onto the bed and crawl in after her,
and for three fitful hours pray for dreams of any kind to come.

Leah Nielsen earned her MFA. from the University of Alabama. Her first collection of poems, No Magic, was published by Word Press. Her chapbook, Side Effects May Include, which examines the state of permanent patienthood, was published in 2014 by The Chapbook. Among other places, her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, and Rattle, Southern Indiana Review, and The Timberline Review. She lives Westfield, MA, and teaches at Westfield State University.