THE DEAD WEIGHT OF DOGS
I come every other day to check on them.
It’s not enough, but I don’t want to
be around their falling, and vomit, and chronic diseases.
So I visit, stop by to help, do what I can.
Maude is ninety-two, and strong for her age
but too visually impaired to drive. My cousin is fifty,
and has an affliction in her immune system.
It’s a curse. It makes me believe in the devil.
It makes me afraid for myself. Any one of us
could get caught and not be able to escape.
It’s how we’re made, cell by cell.
The fridge is broken. She can’t afford microwavable food,
or Coke, the one thing that revives my cousin
enough to rise from her chair, weightless as origami,
and smooth Maude’s balding head, and find where
she has hidden her black-market narcotics in her dark,
cluttered house, antiques piled to the ceiling, snug under dust.
One day I will come and the disaster will be too big
for me to handle, but I don’t think it is today.
Today I have come to bury her dog.
I am needed in a hurry, Maude tells me over the phone,
to dig a hole for Dutch.
Maude is practical. She thinks straight, keeps safe.
She sticks a brick in the gap in the fence
where the little dog could slip out onto the street.
She knows how many ways there are to get killed
by a single over-looked detail.
The world is very big but the specifics are small.
I wouldn’t want to know them all like Maude.
I don’t think it is very warm to sleep next to my cousin
but that’s where Dutch stayed curled in her mistress’s
fetid smell like they were a pair of miniature wolves,
their tails tucked around the ball of themselves,
a physical need as good as a drink of water.
The way it happened is, Dutch went out to poop,
and took too long. They both thought the brick
must be knocked over.
Even though they were sure Dutch was too small
to nudge it out of the way, they had to admit,
she wanted out just as much as any dog.
It wasn’t a car. It was the neighbor across the street.
He lives alone and senility is working on him
like an infestation of tiny roaches
that swarm when the lights go out.
Dutch! Dutch! My cousin stood in the driveway
and called. Yap, yap, yappy, little dog couldn’t stop
barking at the old man checking his mail,
and so he kicked her hard, and sent her flying.
She hit the road running back to my cousin
just as far as her internal injury would let her go.
She dropped half-dead in the middle of the road.
Asshole! My cousin yelled.
Maybe it made her neighbor feel better
to know he could still kill something.
He turned like nothing had happened
and went inside. Maybe he was carrying
his Publisher’s Clearing House letter
that said he might already be a winner.
Maude noticed the dog’s belly swelling.
She knew exactly what that meant.
My cousin picked up her dog in a hurry
to get to the vet, and then it was done,
before the car door was even open.
Dutch was gone, and there was nothing
Maude could say that could help even a little.
My cousin is in the living room crying.
She holds her dog like another piece of refuse
from her unlucky life.
Maude empties out her late husband’s small, red
toolbox, and my cousin wraps Dutch in dog blankets
and sets her inside looking up like a cuddled child
in its coffin. Then it is left to me. I close the lid,
and carry Dutch out to the daylily bed.
The two of them stay in the kitchen.
The funeral is too sudden, but they watch me
from the window. I’m sorry, I say to Dutch,
and to God. It is my prayer, and I mean it.
My cousin’s dog has a soul. I feel ashamed
of my narrow, lukewarm, every other day duty.
I could have loved very well if I were as pure as a dog.
It took my cousin all night to think of
what else she had left in the world to live for.
Maybe she thought of Maude.
Maybe it was my next visit.
—from Rattle #62, Winter 2018
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Loueva Smith: “I wrote ‘The Dead Weight of Dogs’ for Timothy Green. I was actually thinking what would he like? I remembered my rough draft of this poem, which I had read to a workshop group about five years ago. Everybody in the group disliked it. It got under their skin. Then I thought rattle. Yeah. They were rattled. That’s what Timothy Green likes. I write poems because I have more and more hard questions that I can’t answer in any other way. Sometimes it feels like I’m drawing my deck of tarot cards.”