Some hold clothes. Some, bone. Still others
contain traces of evaporated sweat
from their brow. It is true
that I have never buried a hound dog.
Still, I sleep with some of Barney’s ash
at my side. Also on the nightstand
are specks of breath left from winter
frost. How can it be that a long life
for a dog is equivalent to the depth,
in feet, of a swamp-sinking moon?
Something is always eluding my reach,
just out of breath, as if what is leaving
is trying to descend a mountain that won’t quit
the moon. The proliferation of graves,
he said, was intended to confound grave
robbers. Okay, what if a hound dog
gets confused by its own death? I think of all
the moments they are as present as wind
leaving a tree. Here today, gone
today, if every moment is now.
How can I possibly be older
than Tu Fu, who sailed up the Milo
toward Pingchiang but left the body
not quite halfway there? He complained
of illness and white hair, but it was the loneliness
of exile that killed him. What if we take to the road
but never leave the moon warming our throat?
What if hound dogs depart, each night,
into backwoods sound and grief—the proliferating
screech of barred owls on the fence, the smell
of ourselves in the night, bringing with it
the scent of the dark’s dark? George Harrison,
like Tu Fu, left the body at fifty-eight. And Yogananda
at fifty-nine. They all held so many more universes
than I could possibly speak. At sixty, I figure,
the gathering of years is intended to confound
our breath into thinking it can wed the wind
when the leaves fall. My point is only
to get myself not to weep while eating a plum
and thinking of Wang Wei alone by the fire.
He had his lute; I have my dog,
even the one no longer in the body
but whose ash we placed by seventeen trees
she loved on the road West. That’s all I wanted
to say, how we leave even when we stay. How parts
of ourselves populate the paths, like six
or seven graves for Tu Fu, and some saliva
and a bit of sweat he left here, then there,
all those years he wandered. How when we open
the door and the dog goes out
into steaming night-smoke
rain, parts of us come in.
George Kalamaras, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Prize, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.