At mid-life I dream of Penny, Bridget,
Tillie—the neighborhood dogs, all dead
by the late eighties—pressing their tender
heads into last century’s laps, or racing
us on our wet bikes up Kemp West,
nosing my empty Keds in the grass.
One dusk I left my house
through my brother’s window, sneakers slapping
porch brick. Curled, knee-to-chin, behind
azaleas steaming with moths.
My mother had thrown a book—then
a shelf of books, their blue and brown leathers
fanning. My father back there, laughing—
and her yell still stained the glass
I’d slid shut. Across the street swung
Tillie’s rust-setter head, dark lantern
in the weeds, and dusk-red, she turned
and knew me, her ears rising
when she rose and came to her curb
as if I were a sister or a mercy. She stopped there,
sat. Tongue loose, eyes sorrow-soft. Regarded me
from the other side. After that,
the street was silver-blue.
Now that I am pages and grass inside
and have found her vesper body
again, fur-heavy in the dark, I stand, I step down
into the leaves, I stop
at my father’s Chevy. I’ll say
Tillie. I’ll sing to her (make haste!)
from our drive, I’ll praise (hallelujah!). Grief
is not for standing in the road.
Grief waits at the edge of its yard,
moves its tail when it sees me
still. I want her but I
won’t move. I’ll say Sit, Tillie. Good girl.
I’ll say, Stay.
Editor’s Note: As this poem unfurls, the enjambment grows increasingly more challenging, mirroring the speaker’s dawning grief.