American Life in Poetry


Unlike the calculated expressions of feeling common to its human masters, there is nothing disingenuous about the way a dog praises, celebrates, frets, or mourns. In this poem David Baker gives us just such an endearing mutt.

Mongrel Heart

Up the dog bounds to the window, baying
like a basset his doleful, tearing sounds
from the belly, as if mourning a dead king,

and now he's howling like a beagle - yips, brays,
gagging growls - and scratching the sill paintless,
that's how much he's missed you, the two of you,

both of you, mother and daughter, my wife
and child. All week he's curled at my feet,
warming himself and me watching more TV,
or wandered the lonely rooms, my dog shadow,
who like a poodle now hops, amped-up windup
maniac yo-yo with matted curls and snot nose
smearing the panes, having heard another car
like yours taking its grinding turn down
our block, or a school bus, or bird-squawk,
that's how much he's missed you, good dog,
companion dog, dog-of-all-types, most excellent dog
I told you once and for all we should never get.

Reprinted from 'The Southeast Review,' Vol. 23, No. 2, 2005, by permission of the author, whose newest book of poetry is 'Midwest Eclogue' (W.W. Norton).

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