September 7, 2020

Jennifer Perrine

FUR BABY

How I disdain that phrase
because I have no children,

only a sprawling yard
and a penchant for naming.

I called my first dog Frank,
hoping she would be forthright.

I have loved too many
closets, too many half-truths

that were also half-lies.
Frank refused such legacies,

possessed no genes of mine
to muster her best defense

against, though I suppose
she had some inheritance

of her own to struggle
with. Frank, so far as I know,

never considered me
a parent, never measured

me unfit, though I fumed
when she ate my papers, locked

her in her crate for hours
after she chewed through that couch

in the rented house. Ten
years on, when my partner left,

Frank’s warmth punctuated
the bed, a comma behind

my knees, an em dash when
her greyhound legs stretched. I bore

accidental scratches,
holes her claws snagged in my clothes.

When I woke, we would walk
to the park, tots with no fear

flocking to her white beard.
When passersby asked her name,

I never felt the need
to correct when they assumed

our genders, dubbed both me
and Frank him. Still, I saddled

her with a moniker
that may not have matched her sense

of self, if she had one.
She may have longed for a word

more apt, more feminine,
more evocative of sly

delights, though her earnest
glee seemed unmistakable

when, as she paddled far
from shore, I summoned her back,

the splash of her long limbs
a graceless mess. It’s not true

to say I wanted no
children, just fewer chances

at sorrow. Little did
I know what honesty Frank

would mother in me, months
I could not feed her enough

to keep up with the rush
of steroids prescribed to shrink

the mass in her brain. Starved,
she swallowed a whole bottle

of fish oil and shat grease
in the backseat all the way

to the hospital. Well
enough again the next day,

her fur retained that scent
for a year. She learned to stay

as I administered
injections, nursed her so long

I forgot she was still
sick. When it was time, I can’t

be sure if she heard me
as I soothed her, hushed my hands

on her black ears, her flank,
cradled her, whispered Frank, Frank.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020

__________

Jennifer Perrine: “A writing teacher once told me that no one wants to read poems about pets, and I repeated that misguided advice for many years after I became I teacher myself. If I could go back and amend all those conversations, I would say that the world needs more poems about love, no matter what form that takes. I would also say, ‘Who cares whether someone else wants to read it? If you care about it, write it.’” (web)

 

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