American Life in Poetry
Considering that I’m a dog lover, I haven’t included nearly enough dog poems in this column. My own dog, Howard, now in his dotage, has never learned a trick of any kind, nor learned to behave, so I admire Karla Huston for having the patience to teach her dog something. Huston lives in Wisconsin.
The cruelest thing I did to my dog
wasn’t to ignore his barking for water
when his tongue hung like a deflated balloon
or to disregard his chronic need for a belly rub
but to teach him to shake hands,
a trick that took weeks of treats, his dark eyes
like Greek olives, moist with desire.
I made him sit, another injustice,
and allowed him to want the nuggets enough
to please me. Shake, I said. Shake?
touching the back of his right leg
until he lifted it, his saliva trickling
from soft jowls, my hand wet with his hunger.
Mistress of the biscuit, I ruffled his ears
and said good dog until he got it. Before long,
he raised his paw, shook me until he got
the treat, the rub, the water in a chilled silver bowl,
the wilderness in him gone, his eyes still lit with longing.
Poem copyright 2013 by Karla Huston from ”A Theory of Lipstick” (Main Street Rag Publishing Co, 2013), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.