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The Shaved Dog

ISSUE:  Autumn 1991
Unreasonable moments, like the dog’s hair,
shaved and hand-swept against the steps
as my father pauses to look into the springy yard,
to stare into his past which has become his future

and will provide, so he thinks, the commentators
at his death. Spring pops up
like an old habit, and the dog cringes, afraid of life now,

half-sized against the breeze
that continues to blow off the lake—and my father,
who has lurched this way and that, looking for a life
that would unfold casually,

gorgeously in his two hands, stares straight into the bin
of his memory, giving himself a break,
trying to give everyone a break and failing at that,

coming, as he holds the shaver like a hilt,
to suspect that we believe certain ideas because it is too
to believe others; nothing more than that,
as if the grand eolithic progress could be random

or more of a mystery than it already is.
And you know how life grabs us up like stumbling children,
and carries us on,

and how we wake one afternoon from a nap
in a hotel in Portland, remembering someone we loved
realizing how deeply we loved; and how what it means to
is to let the past go, to bless it or curse it,

and let it go;
and how even the death of one we loved
fades until it too is a part of the glow

surrounding us as we sit on the steps
letting the sun address us.
I know now that my father, who has been dead
half my life, wished for a death like stepping through a door,

a door that he would stand at shyly
and raise an affectionate hand
to wave us good-bye, and I believe that he thought of this,

stranded on the back steps after shaving the brindle
and white hair of the mongrel dog
who lived with us then. I think as the car
plunged off the road, and the great tree rose

like the memory of his own father dark in a dream,
that his life
that by anyone’s measure

failed continually, did not bite at him then,
but leaned back gratefully into him as one would lean back
under the sunshine of spring’s first warm day,
but there is no way I can know this for sure

as my own life, lived longer than his, in a time of terror
 and shame,
jostles its way to the grave, like the dog’s and the day’s,
and the memories like fresh sheets

swung out cleanly over the old bed I lay myself down in
 and sleep.


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