My Black Dog



I have tried everything to get rid of him:
left him with friends and in kennels
or in caves where he disappears     not even a shadow
but his eyes flicker like flames   adjust to the dark—
I am hardly back into the sunlight
before I sense him already behind me, following me home—
I would poison him but what dose would I use to kill and not maim him?
He demands too much of me as it stands.

I put him outside every morning trying not to touch him
I give him the boot   my foot against his warm hide. He resists me
then for reasons of his own     buckles and gives in.   I go about my business
try to ignore him      he leaps and charges the door     or worse
I will pass the windowed door to see him pressing his nose
against the glass panting in despair and resignation until
I must open the house again.   I pat the air above his head     poor fellow
tell him I love him though I wish he would find another place—
He lies on a rug near me   wants to please me   wants to own me. From time to time
he lifts his head  in adoration and hatred     craving any word.
When I glance up in thought   he rises and approaches   in joy and longing
as if surely I must comprehend at last he is my own   my black dog
my blessing my burden and he will never leave me, no—

He is mine in the place where the blighted leaf trembles in terror
and the tree stands    upright    black as the hands of a clock at midnight
he pulls me to the edge of the mountain where the souls of the dead
continue their journey and to the gouge in the earth
where the Nothing that waits has the weight of disaster
the vacuum created by a collapsing star—
Black dog relentless companion he pads beside me      wolves
sing to each other in the needle-laden dark     in daylight
just below the line of my vision he calls me to perfection
to crumbled leaves and bitter unguents       the terrible beauty
of branch and bone    my black dog my blessing my burden
he pulls me through the green and lovely terror of my crazy flowering—

I cling root and tendril to earth and wall
the buds of one rose swell and ripen       the petals of another
turn loose and fall—

Wanda Fries’ poem “Annunciation” won the 2009 James Baker Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry. She earned a master of fi ne arts in fi ction from Bennington College and received an Al Smith Fellowship for fi ction from the Kentucky Arts Council. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including New Growth: Recent Kentucky Writings and Sojourners.

Editor’s Note: This poem was a semifinalist in the 2009 New Southerner Literary Contest.

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