by Mark Doty
I’ve been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core’s the same –
we’re walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,
or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road. Everything’s fine,
then the dog sprints ahead of us,
excited; we’re calling but
he’s racing down a scent and doesn’t hear us,
and that’s when he goes
onto the highway. I don’t want to describe it.
Sometimes it’s brutal and over,
and others he’s struck and takes off
so we don’t know where he is
or how bad. This wakes me
every night now, and I stay awake;
I’m afraid if I sleep I’ll go back
into the dream. It’s been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote
not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just
a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.
I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you’re well.
He’s just so tired, though nothing
shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable;
the doctor doesn’t hear what I do,
that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all day,
vanish into fever’s tranced afternoons,
and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming
like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude
and go straight to hell.
We don’t have a future,
we have a dog.
Who is he?
Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that-which-goes-forward,
black muzzle, black paws
scouting what’s ahead;
he is where we’ll be hit first,
he’s the part of us
that’s going to get it.
I’m hardly awake on our morning walk
– always just me and Arden now –
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall of the dream,
which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I’d looked both ways,
I screamed his name and grabbed his collar.
And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his neck
and nothing coming,
and when I looked into that bewildered face
I realised I didn’t know what it was
I was shouting at,
I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.’