American Life in Poetry

American Life in Poetry: Column 044
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, 2005.
Copyright © 2005 by David Baker. This weekly column is supported by
The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The column does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
American Life in Poetry ©2005 The Poetry Foundation