Something to Read

Bow-Wow: Three Poems Featuring Dogs

Berkeley Dogs

The dogs look human in their Volvos,
Or so I discover as I walk through the parking lot of CVS,
Swinging my small purchase of antacids and vanilla ice cream.
All the dogs sit in their rightful places, the windows cracked.
Their mugs convey the look of, “No, I’m not what you think.”
I call, “Hey, boy,” to one pup who turns its head away, disgusted.
I call, “Hey, Lassie,” to a golden retriever. To make her point,
She places her paws onto the steering wheel.
These dogs don’t bark. Their eyes form words that say, “Go away.”
I don’t. When I look into the window of one car,
The dog busies itself checking the odometer for the next oil change.
How did this happen, this evolution in less than thirty years?
The pooches of my own childhood fetched and frolicked,
Fought themselves into bloody rags. They copulated in a fury,
As we kids hollered, amazed by the push-push action in the middle
Of our street. These Berkeley dogs practice Zen
With Feng Shui water bowls set half-in, half-out of shadows.
These dogs have mastered Aikido rolls.
They have lawyers, too, when divorce occurs
And resolution counselors when a fuss rises up
Between different breeds.
They know their rights.

The moon has no influence on these canines,
And the moon now rides over the parking lot of this drugstore.
By this light I see a dog in every parked car
Reading the Wall Street Journal.
Me, I’m still where I always was,
With a dog-eared Field and Stream.
I have learned this: dogs have shifted from the backseat
To the passenger’s seat to finally the driver’s seat.
When one set of owners returns from the store,
They climb into the back. The dog gazes
Into the rearview mirror to see if the companions
Are buckled in, for they share in deeds and living trusts.
The Volvo starts with a shiver, leaves cautiously.
The companions smile at each other. They take up leashes
In their mouths, sniffing for the future.

Nelson, My Dog

Like the cat, he scratches the flea camping in fur.
Unlike the cat he delights in water up to his ears.
He frolics. He catches a crooked stick—
On his back he naps with legs straight up in the air.
Nelson shudders awake. He responds to love
From head to tail. In happiness
His front legs march in place
And his back legs spark when they push off.
On a leash he knows his geography.
For your sake he looks both ways before crossing,
He sniffs at the sight of a poodle trimmed like a hedge,
And he trots the street with you second in command.
In the park, he ponders a squirrel attached to a tree
And he shovels a paper cup onto his nose.
He sweeps after himself with his tail,
And there is no hand that doesn’t deserve a lick.
Note this now, my friends:
Nelson can account the heritage of heroic dogs:
One, canines lead the blind,
Two, they risk fire to rescue the child and the child’s toy,
Three, they swim for the drowning,
Four, they spring at the thief,
Five, they paddle ponds for the ball that got away,
Six, they walk side by side with the elderly to the very end,
Seven, they search for bones but stop when called,
Eight, they bring mud to all parties,
Nine, they poke among the ruins of a burnt house,
Ten, they forgive what you dish out on a plate.

Nelson is a companion, this much we know,
And if he were a movie star, he would do his own stunts—
O, how he would fly, climb the pant legs of a scoundrel
And stand tall rafting on white-water rivers!
He has befriended the kingdom of animals:
He once ran with wolves but admittedly not very far,
He stepped two paces into a cave and peeked at the bear,
He sheltered a kitten,
He righted the turtle pedaling its stumps on its back,
Under the wheeling stars he caravanned with the mule,
He steered sheep over a hill,
He wisely let the skunk pass,
He growled at the long-bearded miser,
He joined ducks quacking with laughter,
Once he leaped at a pheasant but later whined from guilt.

Nelson’s wet nose is a compass in the wilds.
He knows nature. He has spied spires of summer smoke,
He circled cold campfires,
He howled at a gopher and scratched at the moon,
He doctored his wounds with his tongue,
He has pawed a star of blood left in snow,
He regards the fireplace, the embers like blinking cats,
This too we know about Nelson.
True, he is sometimes tied to parking meters
And sometimes wears the cone of shame from the vet’s office.
But again, he is happiness.
He presents his belly for a friendly scratch.
If you call him, he will drop his tennis ball,
Look up, and come running,
This muddy friend for life. When you bring your nose
To his nose for something like a kiss,
You can find yourself in his eyes.

True Story

In Berkeley, I walked in gloom,
As if I had eaten a bowl of ashes, with ash milk,
With a spoonful of sugary ash.
I walked until my body began to crumple,
And a Volkswagen beetle, a ragtop,
Chugged up the hill, also made of ash.
Like a prophet, the driver had long hair and a beard.
His companion in the passenger seat
Was a dog eating an apple, turning it over in its teeth
To get at all sides, the entire world of sweetness.
When the dog viewed me from the corners
Of his eyes, I couldn’t help but touch my heart.
I was grateful that I lived in his consciousness,
Even these brief seconds, which, in dog time,
Is something like twenty minutes in human time.
The blink of his eyelashes blew away the ashes,
Blew away my gloom.

The Volkswagen popped black exhaust,
Rattled up the street. In my happiness,
I went home and lay on the couch, hands behind my head.
I ate an apple, juggling it in my teeth to get all sides,
And thought, yes, this is a dog’s life devoured
All the way to its core and three seeds.

These three poems are copyrighted by Gary Soto and may not be duplicated without permission from the author.