The Dog in the Library

By Catherine Stearns
Feature image: Sleeping Bloodhound, 1835 by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

“We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries,
seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no
inkling of the meaning of it all.” —William James

On sunny, cerulean days I go all the way
to eleven when I stretch and sniff among the leaves,
whereas you stay inside, hunched over
your moral universe. Old girl, if you
stopped trying to decipher those fossil bird tracks,
you might see the thermal-gliding hawk above
or that zaftig possum gnawing on fallen
persimmons under the window. I’m just saying
your preference betrays a certain fear
of your own nature. Remember
last summer when you left me in the car
to pick up a book they were holding for you,
and a page or two in you recognized
your own penciled and may I say
obsessive marginalia, although you had
no memory of the text itself?
Whatever made you think your mind
could be disenthralled with words?

As a pup, I once took Mark Strand’s
injunction in “Eating Poetry” to heart,
devouring one or two slim volumes,
but soon realized I prefer the raw
material of life, what e e cummings
calls “the slavver of spring”: smells
of fresh earth, the ghostly scent of
rabbits, even the mounds of dirty laundry
piled up on your bed. If you found answers
to your questions, do you truly believe
those answers would transform you?
So many of your species seem
susceptible to revelation. We’re all
browsers, old girl, without an inkling,
waiting by the door for a treat or to be forgiven
until our unleashed immortal part bolts
for that hit of dopamine. Then
all good dogs go to heaven.

Catherine Stearns is writer-in-residence at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Her first book of poems, The Transparency of Skin (New Rivers Press), won the Minnesota Voices Project Prize, and a chapbook, Then & Again, was published last year by Slate Roof Press. She has recent poems in The Yale Review, CALYX, and Poetry Daily.

Feature image: Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) Photo © Tate

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