The Dog in the Night

Coming home one night, I felt the steering wheel
go loose in my grip,
the car slewing as if skating on air.
My old dog, the one I never loved enough, running
alongside to greet me, moved in so close
her body slipped under the wheel.
When she emerged, barely scathed, I formed
a new bond with her,
traced the Braille of her bones, her dog-eared right ear.
Finger-combed her matty red fur.
When I was a child, my mother,
pissed off at my father, reminded him how
he ran over a stranger one night,
and left his body lying in the road.
I thought of that man, the moment the solidity
of things slammed him up the center,
hit him harder than anything in the visible world.
I imagined my father’s guilt, wondered if it settled in
like a permanent back-seat driver,
or if the years picked at the memory,
dissolving it into so many parts per million,
an amount only animals sense in the air.
I began to play detective, found my father’s
old driving glove, called it “the murder glove,”
examined it for traces, drew it over my hand,
stroked my face with its palm.
I read mysteries, learned how detectives
find solutions in the chemistry of a follicle,
the whorl of a fingerprint, the cyan
surface of a tongue.
In school they taught us Aristotle believed
that limbs and locks of hair,                                      
the inflection of a voice, were only accidents,
not the essence of a thing, but I wanted
accidents to be who we are,
because I loved the story of Ulysses,
who returned home disguised as a beggar,
so that only Argos, his dying dog, blind
and left lying on a dung heap,
recognized him in spite of his rage, his rags,
the new whinge in his voice.
He knew him by his scent, its molecules
telling as a fingerprint.
He was loyal, that dog, though weak and hardly
able to lift his tail,
he loved him for his accidents,
not caring about the journeys,
the fame, the suitors he’d soon slaughter,
or the twelve unfaithful maids whose bodies
would hang from a beam.

 

 

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