American Life in Poetry: Column 044

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Unlike the calculated expressions of feeling common to its human masters, there is nothing disingenuous about the way a dog praises, celebrates, frets or mourns. In this poem David Baker gives us just such an endearing mutt.

Mongrel Heart

Up the dog bounds to the window, baying
         like a basset his doleful, tearing sounds
             from the belly, as if mourning a dead king,

and now he’s howling like a beagle – yips, brays,
         gagging growls – and scratching the sill paintless,
              that’s how much he’s missed you, the two of you,

both of you, mother and daughter, my wife
         and child. All week he’s curled at my feet,
             warming himself and me watching more TV,

or wandered the lonely rooms, my dog shadow,
        who like a poodle now hops, amped-up windup
            maniac yo-yo with matted curls and snot nose

smearing the panes, having heard another car
           like yours taking its grinding turn down
               our block, or a school bus, or bird-squawk,

that’s how much he’s missed you, good dog,
         companion dog, dog-of-all-types, most excellent dog
             I told you once and for all we should never get.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from The Southeast Review, Vol. 23, No. 2, 2005, by permission of the author, whose newest book of poetry is Midwest Eclogue, W. W. Norton (2005). Copyright © 2005 by David Baker. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.