Junk Yard Dog

by Christine Adams Beckett

The shrill telephone startled her from

An unconscious afternoon of laundry folding.

“Your dog is down on Berkeley,

Headed for Valley Road,”

The frantic woman said.

“We can’t stop him.”

She found him lumbering

Crookedly like the stray dogs

She had seen on the islands.

From a distance, one could imagine

The mange, the dirt,

The fleas and conjunctivitis

As he violently choked down

A piece of tin foil, malleable and discolored

Like a dog who had not been fed

$35 a bag kibble with warmed chicken stock

Just that morning.

His sideways stride, even and experienced,

His evasive agility suggested

He never lost his freedom.

It was always there, a feral nature

Residing just under the fur,

Exposed with a mere scratch of the skin

Where the screen that used to plug the hole in the fence

Exposed some bloodied flesh.

Why be dragged back to a

Suffocating life of down-filled, fleece-lined dog beds,

Warm peanut butter on a toddler’s inviting fingers,

And crackling fires that warmed his haunches

Where the fur grew too thin for

New Jersey winters?

She may look like a suburban mother

Who warms chicken stock to

Moisten his kibble.

She is also a captor, a jailor

Who pursues him with a terrified need,

A disconsolate feeling of loss

Much like that of experiencing

A child shuffle off her lap, refusing the breast,

Or the preschooler’s shrug of the shoulders

Upon her departure to the classroom

WIth no hint of separation anxiety.

It suggests the same rejection, isolation

As the teenager who finally realizes

He prefers an evening amongst his peers,

A lover who has been unable to

Break through the wall of a solitary existence.

The suggestion of death, the dog’s,

Her own,

Startles her to look to love.

She kneels and purrs, holds out a treat

To lure him back with kindness.

A stare down ensues

Followed by

A last dash to the upturned garbage can.

She sits on the frozen ground, her knees to her eye sockets

And considers:

Not having to rise at 6 AM for that first

Pit stop in the front yard.

Conjures the freedom of having a morning uninterrupted by

The prerequisite walk around the park.

A weekend away without a dog sitter,

A bittersweet thought on her angry mind.

Angrier still, until a familiar wet nose

Jars her from her fantasy

Of days without others to care for

With a warm lick to the cheek.

She clicks the leash to the collar

Not knowing

If the tongue sought to comfort

Or to find sadistic pleasure in

The saltiness of her tears.