“Letter to God” by Mark Doty

Mark Doty


The dogs were tired and bewildered,
stunned by the ways they’d been treated
by men—yelled at, kicked around, left unfed
in the cold and the rain. Not to mention

the usual predations of time and illness:
cold creak of the hips, tumor and clouded eye,
ears that ceased to help at all …
What could they do, powerless ones?

To whom might they appeal?
The wisest among them
—that was his reputation—
suggested that a letter be drafted to God;

only by appeal to a higher authority
might their plight be considered.
But once the questions were written,
who would carry it? Who knew how

to imagine the way?
The ablest was chosen—a retriever,
he could walk for days,
nearly incapable of flagging,

and his entire being knew the imperative,
to carry. But how will you carry it, they asked?
In my mouth. No, they cried, you’ll drop it
every time you bark. And then the wisest

made this plan: they’d roll their plea
into a scroll, tightly, and their hero
would open his legs, and lift his tail,
and carry the missive inside him,

where he was sure to keep it
until he reached the gates of paradise.
And off he trotted, his head high, and his tail,
only a slight delicacy in his walk

betraying discomfort, into the fields
with their blonde grasses, upstream,
off toward the border of the world.
Do I need to tell you he never returned?

Why Lord, the letter read, did you put
a wicked clockspring in our bellies?
Our eyes glaze, our old hips refuse
a step, we can’t even lift a leg

to mark a trail. Why given these indignities
are we further subject to the harrowing
of men, we who stand before them
all expectation, why are we met with blows,

or worse? In every town of this world
you’ve given us, in pen and shelter,
in cellar and alley and hole in the dirt,
we your children await your reply.

Therefore, when each dog meets a stranger,
it’s necessary to sniff beneath the tail:
perhaps, this time, this is the returning messenger;
it’s still possible a reply might reach them.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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