From Mark Doty’s heartbreaking 1995 collection Atlantis, about his partner dying of AIDS. This is the first section of the title poem (just the dog parts–the whole thing is here). “He is where we’ll be hit first” is about the best description of loving a pet I’ve ever read. (Still no sign of Oliver.)
“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.
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 realized I didn’t know what it was
I was shouting at,
I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.”