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Lynne Martin Bowman


Dogs know who I am, their skin shedding fur,
hair swirling across the red-brick linoleum.
When I go to see important people
they see how important fur is to me,
how I decorate my very professional calendar book,
my coat, the seat of my pants, my good sweater with it.
I make a statement and hair spits out, or some lonely
howl. This is how the house sounds, the rough growls
of play, the hungry talk, the pleading yelps to be let out.
Always begging, begging for food.

Imagine the pack wide for the hunt, tails straight out—
each molecule of wind telling them how to find the herd,
each blade of grass pointing the way—the deermice,
voles, the prairie hens stay hidden, still—those fourleggeds
can hear blood pumped too loud, or breath when it slips
too hard. They know how the heart tastes and the bones.

My sister keeps a dog she’s scared of, throws it treats
so it won’t bite, keeps it so it might bite others.
The dog doesn’t know where it is, who is alpha,
who is not, where the next kill will come from.
Curled in an old quilt at night, it eats kibble, then
downs a young deer, dragging a log or something home,
most left uneaten, rotting somewhere in the woods.

Now with the dog, she keeps her son, forty years old
and dying. His grey breath falling on every knickknack,
the particles of his skin make the dog cry. Nothing
I do or say is right. Only howling will do. Hairs stick
to my skin, my bones, I know that pack will soon be
the son will die, the dog will move on, my sister I don’t
When the moon comes full, it might hold her tears,
but not her bitterness. She will not call to me, nor I to her.

Each pack must have a home. Each to its own desire—
a cave or sheltered place. When the members go out to
they leave the pups with an older dog, so-called "uncle" or
Mostly mice are what they eat, even some seeds
and grass. But when the plain fills with a herd, or
the clearing a small group of deer, the pack must go.

I go hunting some good steaks or chicken for dinner,
the grocery so bright, everything shiny—only at home,
my dogs whine. Even when it’s frozen, they know
the taste of blood, remember the moving animal,
the slaughter and return, the dance of family feeding,
no words for grace.


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