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In a Dog's Voice

June 2022   Issue #300

“They say a poet
can never write a purely happy poem about a dog
greeting the sun and what it has done to rain.
I don’t know about that."

so writes Analicia Sotelo in her poem “Grace Among the Ferns”

Does that hold true for the two dogs who author (or are the voice) in these poems read by Billy Collins? (watch video)

In talking about his poems, Collins says that putting a dog into a poem makes it harder to avoid the sentimental. The dog voices in "The Dog on His Master" and "The Revenant" seem to be able to do it, though neither is "purely happy."

 I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you — not one bit.”

The dog in Mark Doty's, “Golden Retrievals” (from Sweet Machine) I imagine being his golden retriever, Beau, who he wrote about in Dog Years: A Memoir (P.S.) who along with his black lab partner, Arden, helped Mark through a very dark period in his life. Beau uses a sonnet form.

On their walk, the dog is full of joy and in the moment. But the poet?

"... Either you’re sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you never can bring back,
or else you’re off in some fog concerning
—tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work:
to unsnare time’s warp (and woof!), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,
a Zen master’s bronzy gong, calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.

In "Grace Among the Ferns, "our model poem on the website for this month's prompt, the poet envies the dog. Grace, who like Beau in Doty's poem, finds delight in exploring the late spring ferns. The poet says:  

"I am not sure I have ever had such a joy,
either in discovery or expectation..."

The call for submissions for May was for a dog poem in the voice of the dog. Let's take Collins' warning about over sentimentality into account. Let's remember the joy and Zen of Beau and Grace. You don't have to have ever owned a dog to know the voice of one - but having a dog that owned you will certainly change how to approach this prompt.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Born in the winter I watched him grow, my little one
With his little unsteady legs
Sucking on everything it get its tiny hands on
I watched him grow, my little one
His hairless coat sleek and clean
He crawls to me playfully
He is mine and I am his
He soon learns to crawl and then to walk
I watch him run in the Spring rain
Dashing from puddle to puddle
Excited at each splash he makes
And am like my name Quicksilver he is fast, but I am faster
In the summer running, running so free
Without a care the world, chasing pigeons and ducks
Just for the fun of the chase
I watch him in the fall running full speed through the leaves,
He is my companion and I am his
It is the Winter of my life,
But the Spring of his
And I am his and he is mine

Douglas J. Sweeting, Sr.

for Loki

I loved you from the very day you met
me, gave me an alpha-wolf rollover
for putting my teeth on you. You can bet
my owners were shocked – their lawless rover
treated so! You brought me home, I loved you
for marking off a dog’s place – to a point.
"No teeth on skin" In turn, I pulled you through
my world to explore, to sniff and anoint
with our scent. But the boundaries you set
to hold me, petting as a form of love….
I couldn’t stand it for pure joy, the net
of fingertips through fur, the sky above –
still famished for more, I’d grab at free sky
("no teeth on skin!") hoping at last to fly.

Taylor Graham


Watching you at your yoga class in the park,
I hear the leader say downward facing dog
and you stretch as I do every morning.
Then you move to what she calls forearm dog
and a puppy pose that looks very uncomfortable.
Did I really do that when I was a puppy?
Turbo dog, three-legged dog, dog dancer, flip dog?
Have you ever seen me do these things?

All these women moving and giving off their scents
into the already busy air and none of you sense it.
The woman walking amongst everyone touches you
and says Lift Your Tail, but you have no tail to lift.

You are missing the point, I say with my bark,
Get off your mat and just run through the park.

Lily Hana Hayashi


Be my guest, man. It’s as easy as ordering online.
Your Mocha Latte is my Puppuccino.
Same bliss going down.

You know what I like because you know what you like.
Forget what the trainer says.
You can’t be confident in high-rising terminals.

She’s been trained to train, sure, but where are her dogs right now?
Heads on bed pillows, drifting in and out of dreams
not of what can’t or shouldn’t be.

We know what bacon smells like, just like you.
We know a loving caress that leads to a gaze
that yields even more delivery of joy.

Rob Friedman


I heard Eumaios talking to someone as I
lay on the cold stone, waiting, as I always have,
for one I could only smell in some far distant
field ploughing, hunting, calling for me to return
to heel in fall fields golden in the sun, redolent
with the smell of hay and hare and the untamed boar
we sought, the one I allowed too close, the one who
gashed his foot before he drove his bronze sword into
its heart, a wound dressed by Eurykleia, a scar
he would carry forward with his many-minded plans.
    Then They came, foul-smelling strangers with foreign voice,
demanding he leave us all, his new son, his wife,
to fight somewhere for a girl no one had ever
heard of—but as the partridge in the sun-burnished
spring droops its wing before the wolf, leading it far
from the newly-hatched chicks, distracting him—so he
began to plow his field erratically, like one
gone mad, trying to foil Atreides’ men as he
thought to fool them, but for once he was outwitted,
turning to avoid his young son placed before him.
    Caught, he left, never to be seen, his son grown, his
wife bereft, would-be suitors plundering his board.
    Yet now a smell, a voice, a sound in memory
as I raise my head one last time, sniff his smell, a
last touch of tongue to hand, then suddenly I’m gone
among the asphodel, led by the gray-eyed goddess,
my constancy rewarded, to know, finally, his return.

Rob Miller


you would not expect me to still be alive after twenty years
but I expected you to return

the smell of manure did not fool my ancient nose
your beggar's disguise did not fool my clouded eyes

I dropped my ears, gave my tail a shake
but I was too weak to stand

you were being secretive
but I immediately knew you

and you knew I have remained faithful
I saw a tear

you arrived home at last and so
I could also go home

to that field you spoke of - Elysium?
Was that what you called it?

immortality across a river where I will not forget
and the sun always shines

and I am strong and healthy,
both of us together as young as when we first ran

Charles Michaels


I push you to go where you don’t usually go
where you don’t really want to go
through the bushes, off the path, up the hill
because in the meadow at the top
you will let me off the leash
and I keep hoping that seeing me free
will unleash yourself
put your nose to the ground
run, listen to things unheard,
fetch the stick I drop for you
and allow me to be the good girl
you sometimes say that I am
even if I will never replace
the one that you lost.

I am waiting
for you here,
at the edge
where the landscape

Pamela Milne


We should have been consulted,
Or at least informed they voted,
That they would bring this new “thing” home,
And we would be demoted.

We hoped she was a visitor
Who wasn’t here for long,
But nary a guest would leave with her;
It looked like we were wrong.

We used to rule this whole place.
We had our masters trained.
But the pecking order in this house
Is no longer well maintained.

Oh sure, they still feed us
And freshen up our water,
But many things have changed ‘round here
Since they brought home their daughter.

The random times of crying
We cannot tolerate,
She’s cut our daily napping down
From nineteen to only eight.

We try to play with all her toys
They are squeaky, small, and stuffed,
But each time we place our paws on one,
We are instantly rebuffed.

Ah! She’s mobile, crawling now.
Across the floor she’ll cruise.
Given the choice of toys or tails,
You can guess which one she’ll choose.

She’s started dropping solid foods.
We pig out and have it made.
But we have to judge the riskiness
Of each sippy cup grenade.

It’s been a year, she’s sticking ‘round.
We’ve come to terms with that.
It could be worse, for we were told
They’d been considering a cat!!

Matt Strain


Cats have it so cushy.

Take the one
who lives in my house.

No trips outside
to do her business
in summer scald
and winter freeze
with cutesy booties on her feet,

no monthly baths
where foamy shampoo
stings the eyes
like wildfire smoke
and dribbles randomly
into the mouth
like a leaky hose,

no balls to chase
as if training for a 200-K
on the same prosaic
tract of grass,

no pressure
to produce a buffet
of tasty tricks
for every guest
who comes to visit.

Cats have it so cushy

in their little boxes
of scented stones
that they strew on the floor
without reprimand,

in their humans’ laps,
where they purr as a brush
runs over their coats
till they’re sleek as minks,

in the tiny places
they go to hide
whenever they crave
some privacy.

If I suppress my urge to bite
this creature
who resides with me,
maybe in a future life,

I’ll come back as a cat.

Susan Spaeth Cherry


wonder if it’s worth
the jump from here

when they leave the bed
it's warm and crumbled
circled for comfort

but this is too good
head on her pillow
window shades pulled

soon one of them will say
the word, the very word
that makes me lick my lips

we know one another well
but I am on a grand chase
a red squirrel just arrived

I run with nowhere to go
dreams allow me time

before our morning walk

Patty Joslyn


I have no fancy papers, no formal pedigree
I am not pampered by
Some old woman wearing diamonds
Some girl, intent on dressing me
In silly costumes

But I am free —
Free to roam the streets
Tip over garbage cans
Compete with coons and ally cats
For my next meal

I am a member of no pack
Answer to no alpha bitch
Intent on keeping me in line
That kind of life
Is not for me

My mother's a feint memory
I never knew my father
My litter mates are scattered
Maybe dead —
It hardly matters

But if you see through my facade
Ignore my false bravado
Take the time to win my trust
I might reward you with
An unparalleled relationship
Unbounded love, unflagging loyalty

Frank Kelly


I love it when you wonder
What I’m thinking
Or if I’m thinking at all
Okay, so that’s a bit insulting
But what do you know?
You’re just a human
And so, I forgive you
For that and the canine clothing
Namely that green Christmas sweater
You know red’s my color
And you forgive me
For throwing up in your shoes
Even though lined up in the hallway
Like that is just asking for it
Tell me something- what is it about humans
And our “breeds” - Dogs are dogs
The way all people are people – right?
We’re not cats, or squirrels or birds
But as you might say- it’s all good
And what is good, aside from mealtimes
Are our night walks – our little pack of three
The scent of spring at its peak,
Cool breezes blowing back my ears
Sending a rush of nature into my nose
Triggering bursts of sensory highs
Like you’ll never know
Then heading back
for a good belly rub and a treat
Because there’s no place like a good home
And for that I am grateful
One, last thing – that God thing
You know D-O-G, G-O-D
You wonder about a connection
Well, let’s just say, if I was to say,
That maybe there’s a reason
we’re not the talking types

Terri J. Guttilla


Twelve years.
The same dry food.
Every. Single. Day.
Then I get sick, and suddenly,
it's minced beef! Chicken and rice! Ham!
Maybe I should have fallen ill earlier...
Don't get me wrong -
I loved the dry food
(until I didn't).
And I enjoyed having my own space -
my kennel in the garden during the day,
my snug, stone shed for night-time-night-time.
Then suddenly, I'm inside the house!!
My basket, tucked into a corner,
complete with my blankets and duvet.
In the actual house!
I should definitely have fallen ill earlier...

He slept near me, on the floor.
I did not see that coming.
I knew enough to ask to be out
first thing the next morning.
I had a little explore, just in case
I didn't get another chance.
He did have to lift me back inside, though,
up the two stone steps.
My legs are different now;
they used to work.

That day, he offered me water, often,
and little morsels of chicken.
A couple of times,
he even put my lead around my neck
to which I grunted
and dropped my head
down onto my bed.
He got the message.

The next night -
my last night -
wasn't quite so peaceful.
I woke us both up
in the early hours
with strange and unfamiliar sounds
issuing from my own, raspy throat.
Something was changing.
He knew it, too.
He came and sat close to me,
stroking my head
and whispering "I love you"
and "just let go"
over and over,
his tears gradually making
my left ear damp
and warm.

Robert Best