“What You’ve Done” by Alexandra Umlas

Alexandra Umlas


That night, the clouds roll in,
as if on a whim, just at the moment
you decide to take the dog you rescued
outside to pee—and you’ve discovered
how the dog is scared of the rain,
the wind shattering the stillness
of the trees, how the dog won’t move,
not even an inch, but stands solidly,
his four legs statued to the porch.

So you carry the dog, who is
too big to be a lapdog, but small enough
to awkwardly hold, down to the corner
where the bushes are on which all
the other dogs have peed, the corner
where there’s a fire hydrant, the ultimate
dog-peeing place, and you set him down.

His name is Joey Ramone, because
your husband loves music and you already
had a cat named Beatles, like the band,
not the bug, and you and Joey Ramone
are there, on the corner of Vista del Sol
with the rain pelting you both,
and you say a prayer to the pee-gods
that the dog will find bravery
enough so you can sleep until the morning
without worrying, and you remember
your children when they were very young,
how much they needed at four
in the morning, and you remember
how your grandmother could never
get comfortable at night.

It’s late, an hour that makes the mind
panic about getting up, and the dog is also
panicked because of the rain, the rain,
that’s still shooting into your eyes,
and no amount of his furious shaking
can shake off the falling rain, and so
he runs all the way home, pulling you
behind him through the darkness, past
the masked raccoon hiding in the tree,
and you remember the man
who made the joke about who
was walking who, and you feel
as ridiculous as you look, but as if
that isn’t ridiculous enough,
when you get home you remember
the pee pads you picked up at Petco
because you didn’t know what to get—
and better to be safe than sorry.

You dig through the cupboard
to find one, set it in the garage, pull
the dog there, where it isn’t raining,
and you listen to the resolve of the rain
on the garage roof and pray (again) the dog
will just pee, and you remember something
about ammonia and decide if you spray
Windex, the dog might pee on it,
and you find the bright blue bottle, spritz
a bit on the pad, and as Joey Ramone
walks by the pad (again), you think
about My Big Fat Greek Wedding,
how Windex cures all.

The the dog sniffs curiously and still
nothing, so you think how the dog
usually pees where other dogs pee,
(except when it’s raining) and you have
no other dogs, being a one-dog household,
and you were talked into this dog
by your kids, because you are a cat person,
but your husband says something to you
one day, he says, I don’t want to live
my whole life and not know what it’s like
to have a dog, even though
he is also a cat person, and so you go
to Wags, the shelter in Westminster,
and there is Joey Ramone,
and all of a sudden he is in your car,
and you are buying pee pads
and a fifty-dollar dog bed.

Your husband loves to tell people
that the best thing about getting a dog
is not having to hear your kids ask
for a dog anymore. And it is
for all these reasons that right then
and there you pull down your sweatpants,
still damp from the rain, and you squat
and pee, just a little, just to see
if you can get the dog to go, and still
he doesn’t go, but looks at you like he
can’t believe what you’ve resorted to,
and you both go to bed,
and it’s still raining, and now
every time it rains you are reminded
of what you’ve done.

from Poets Respond
April 12, 2020


Alexandra Umlas: “Over the past few weeks, we have all found ourselves doing things we would have never imagined doing before. Also, it’s been raining a lot in Southern California this week. When I read this poem to my kids, they told me they liked it, but that I probably should’t send it anywhere. Ha!”

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