“Uncle Ivan and the Last Dog Race” by Travis Burke

Travis Burke


“Well hell.”
Uncle Ivan always said that after a loss,
never screamed or ranted,
never hit me like I’d seen some other men there,
smashing their hands, big as Dobermans and just as mean,
into their little boys, then getting all teary-eyed and whispering
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry” to bloody noses and tense muscles,
if the kids were crying, I’d smile,
if they went to my school, I’d laugh.
But Uncle Ivan never hit me, he was too weak
after his dogs left him for their cheap bowls of poison
and the doggie graveyard.

Sometimes we’d go out for a beer
after the races were cancelled
and the last greyhound limped out of town,
when I was older and Uncle Ivan was dying
one of those long old man deaths with no one left
to care but the ashes of his wife, the yellow photos of his favorite racers
and maybe me.
We’d talk about the dogs,
though I couldn’t remember a single one,
Ivan rattled off every one that ran a fucking race
since the world began or at least since I’d been born.
He said he’d heard of a place downstate,
near Tamiwipawachee,
where they adopted the used greyhounds,
no more last meals in the Alpo. A kind of
doggie old folk’s home.
He told me that’s what he wanted,
to go out and live with the dogs
enjoying prune juice and Purina,
howling at the pretty bitches
who strutted by. I laughed at him,
his sad life ending in a kennel.
I asked him if he caught the rabbits yet,
paid the bill and left him sitting in the dark bar,
hookers working the parking lot.

A few years later, Uncle Ivan disappeared,
some said he owed money, some said he finally ate his own Alpo
and threw his breathing corpse into the river, like so many
finished racers. But I’d like to bet he went south
to the Doggie Retirement Home—
that Uncle Ivan is sitting there,
his greyhounds all come back to him,
shitting in the yard and humping the nurses.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


Travis Burke: “I love how poetry expands who we can be as narrators. There is a beauty to everyone, and I try to capture that within the personas of my poems, from the nephew of a dog-race bettor to a saddle-sore lover. I want people to be struck by lines, and re-engage with poetry as something for the everyday, not stuck in academies and coffee shops.” (web)

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