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.