Nobody’s Dog

Three boys with little to do, one older, and bigger,
down in the innards of a house somebody builds,
but not today, shade cool like the big woods, the dog
nobody’s got a name for hanging with them, tail
wagging when they come near. The faint clean
odor of Georgia pine ripped rises everywhere
they settle, and move, and settle again.
Then one pulls it out, his motion
like waving off a fly, their talk pushy, jeering.
Then silence, creak of the unfinished
rafters naked around them. One
will remember the razoring slants
light drives down upon them like bright nails,
another keeps the dog’s watery gaze
that will always seem to him like a hunger
nobody ever gets filled, and the third—you see him
rise now, the thing in his hand, then kneeling
at the last, the stupid grin like the soldier
gripping the dirty lance where Jesus is
only meat that will shudder and give way.
Nobody knew this was about to happen. No one
of them waking in the summer smells, being human,
uncertain what day would bring would have come
imagining this, not down those raw stairs.
Better to steal from your mother,
better to strike your sister with a nailed limb,
better to dive under a half-sunk boat, accidentally
raking your head on the keel, barely
enough breath to stay alive, and better to keep
your mouth shut. Better never to kneel after
one of them holds the whining dog,
never to look at a boy’s face that looks like a piece
of wood bark’s torn away from, and never
to remember the easy day ending, the syllables
practiced on the walk home, saying them
as if into the mother’s ear, you were not anywhere
today, not with anybody, there is no story
that could be told and now you are hungry. So
still in the pine-paneled kitchen, her touch
in dog-colored dusk. Her singing. Bacon shriveled.

Dave Smith

Dave Smith

Dave Smith is the author of many books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and memoir, including The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000, Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems, 1992–2004, Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry, and Hawks on Wires: Poems 2005-2010. Former editor of The Southern Review, he has received numerous honors, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation, and membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
Dave Smith

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Author: Dave Smith

Dave Smith is the author of many books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and memoir, including The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000, Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems, 1992–2004, Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry, and Hawks on Wires: Poems 2005-2010. Former editor of The Southern Review, he has received numerous honors, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation, and membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers.