Poetically Yours - The life of a dog
Welcome to Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week’s featured artist is Veronica Noechel.
Noechel is dedicated to animal rescue. She’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has received generous support from North Carolina Arts Council, the Vermont Studio Center, Headlands Center for the Arts, United Arts Council, The Culture and Animals Foundation, and I-Park.
Here’s her poem “Four Legs Will Always Be Faster Than Two.”
I know how to find a lost dog, so
why, after you took one last look
at your poor hopeless dog sitter and ran,
were you able to disappear completely?
A black shadow dissolving into the bright
morning like how everything goes blank
In the center of your vision when
the relentless summer sun reflects off
the windshield of an oncoming car.
I know how to find dogs who break free from their fences
and run away like silly tornadoes winding through streets
and between houses. They whirl with delight
and the thrill of being unleashed upon the neighborhood,
a veritable font of pee and low rabbit runs. I know not
to chase but to surprise, how to be more fun
than the whole rest of the world out there, how to roll
on the ground and yell “cookies!” like an idiot to show you
I can be as unexpected and fun as running
fences, barking at the dogs still stuck behind them,
gleefully urinating on their trees just out of reach.
I know how to catch the dog who slips her collar,
even when she’s blind and deaf and can’t tell
that she’s trotting into traffic. I know how to jump
like Superman leaving the earth, to tackle her, rolling
in a human dog ball, a somersault of fur teeth skin hair
my own yelps and the pull of the leash
slipping back over her head.
When we come to a stop
she is indignant, but alive.
I am bleeding but relieved.
While preparing the order for the X-ray of my arm to see
if her teeth nicked the bone--a risk for potential infection and loss
of limb, the doctor looks at me so seriously and says,
“Why did you do this to yourself?
Dogs get hit by cars all the time.”
And when I emerge from Urgent Care, bandaged and be-slinged,
I feel like I really did fly for a moment, like a powerful lycanthrope who
just for once was something bigger than myself, bigger
than my job scooping poop from kennel runs and washing
reluctant dogs while I sing to make them unafraid. Careful,
I start with the toes and work up because it’s easier to face the rush
of water once you’ve felt the needly jets on the backs of your legs, once
you know that the roar in your ears is the same water that pools in your bowl.
I know how to find a dog who wants to be found
Who gets lost finding her way back after
the adventures have expired and a bowl of kibble
sounds better than the grease at the bottom of a KFC bag
swiped from a dumpster. I know how to save a dog from herself,
running toward traffic that stops for no dog. But I don’t know how
to find a dog who wants to go back to the life she had before, to the dark
and feral world you knew like the taste of your own fur,
the texture of your knuckles beneath your tongue. In the quiet
world where no one speaks in words, every move is solid
with meaning. You had a life. You had a place you returned
each night to sleep, a place where you had friends
with high wagging tails and the father of your puppies you just might see
again if you could find that electrical substation you wandered into after
chasing a street coyote a full mile from your sleeping space.
I saw the way you loved your new home, too.
Loved the warm of hearth and the snapping fire within it,
the way your human held you while you slept, petting
your face long after you’d fallen asleep. You’d never known
such safety, or the strange delicious grip of love without conditions.
It was a life that shimmered with security. Now I watch her heart shatter
outward like a pipe bomb full of nails and love for you. None of us are safe
when the call from animal control comes like the toll of John Donne’s bells.
You tried for home through rush hour traffic, doubling back on your feral life
after 3 days on the lam. Was the night so long
before? The ground so hard to sleep upon?
The pavement burned your toes and you kept to the dirt
but there’s glass in shards and the garbage had been picked over
by racoons and ravens who get first pick here. You had forgotten
that you’d been mechanically relocated, miles and miles
from the rural roads you ran. The world changes so quickly
at 3’ off the ground. Just a few minutes with your head out the window
and the ground becomes pavement and the trees become
walls, the doomed big-eyed cows turn into low growling machines
that roll past so fast and big they almost pull you along with them
into the street. They know to stop and start again all at the same time
in double or quadruple rows, so they must be saying something
to each other, but though you yawn and pace, and avert your eyes, they don’t
seem to care that you’re asking them to slow down, to settle for just
a second so you can get back to her. To the places you walked strung
together so you wouldn’t lose her if she couldn’t keep up.
Four legs will always be faster than two. She drew
this straight line from herself to you. A line you followed this far
and you’re sure it’s just a few more streets, just a little
further now and you’ll be there. Just across these last few streets.
Just across the hood of one last fast-moving car.