Like a dog

This is a poem I wrote about my dog Carrie. As the poem describes, she adopted me in 1983 when I was teaching at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia. I’ve revised the poem over the years, read it once or twice, and never considered publishing it. I don’t know how she died, but I feel totally responsible. I let her trot around the neighborhood on her own, something I would never dream of doing now. She didn’t come home. There were several cases of dogs picked up in the area for use in training fighting dogs. That was most likely her fate. So when I’m a little hard on God here, I’m not saying anything I haven’t said to myself—and worse. Not that I wouldn’t say it to Him too, if I believed. Without further confession or ado, the poem—

Like a dog

I watch with care
my dog moving across the yard.
She’s dead now, only a month,
resurrected by my memory—
the sideways drift of her hind legs
gaining on the front,
her eyes wide, expectant,
the soprano chatter of her greeting.

I took her in as a stray.
My students found her on a mountaintop
in a thunderstorm, her eyes wide with shock,
her tits gorged with milk and puss,
no sign of the pups
in the flashes of lightning.

They carried her down on a stretcher made from tent poles and a coat.
They cut the chain off her neck with boltcutters.
After three weeks of antibiotics, she rose from her bed
and inexplicably fell in step beside me.

She lived with me for eight years—
jittery when it rained,
cowering at the clink of chains,
good-hearted and gentle.
I often talked to her when we were alone.

I used to imagine her sufferings on that mountain.
Imagine I’d been her,
just as one might
imagine the sufferings of Christ,
to understand suffering.

I learned enough to marvel
at her ability to separate those
who’d chained her from those
who’d cut the chain.

Christ didn’t have to suffer.
gods don’t have to suffer.
They cause suffering.
Then ask for praise
or thanks
or bended knee
from the survivors.

Christ chained his own throat,
became a man to kill himself,
to pierce his own heart for a change,
to atone for his omnipotence.

Last night I knelt to pray
for the first time since my father died
ten years ago this February.
Then, I couldn’t say a damn thing.
Last night, I prayed to God—
“Thank you for dying,� I said.
“Now, I can imagine you
“alone in the wilderness,
“wind and rain and lightning all around,
“knowing soon you’d die like a dog—
“and maybe, just maybe, forgive you.�

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