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the Puppy - by Taylor Graham -

Walking the Puppy by Taylor Graham

©2013 Taylor Graham All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-46-8 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 www.lummoxpress.com Printed in the United States of America


Acknowledgments Ascent Aspirations: Nature Walk Bolts of Silk: Magic Circa: Chickens; Latest Draft Foothill Post: Museum of Trees Golden Sparrow Literary Review: Flea Medusa’s Kitchen: Off Leash at the Pond; The Zen of Puppy Training Poetry Pacific: Obedience Poetry Super Highway: In the Rough; We Named Her Loki Poets’ Forum Magazine: A Photo’s Worth Pyrokinection: Dynamo; A Household Tale; Ode to a Carrot; Puppy Horde The Road Not Taken: No Lake, But Golden; Shakespearean Sonnet, for Loki Tattoo Highway: Raising Dead Winter


for Loki, the pup who wasn’t like any dog we’d ever known before; and who, not fitting our expectations, created her own


Shakespearean Sonnet, for Loki Your coat, though sable, is no precious fur of a dead beast. Your amber eyes, no stone that glitters behind glass. And I aver your teeth aren’t pearl but polished on a bone. Your voice not tempered as a fluted tune, your step, though quick, is not a measured dance; your mind not logic, but a mystery rune. No choice of mine, you came to me by chance. My trail-companion, in the dark my guide – but you’re already ranging out of sight. I sense the wildest east-wind in your stride, the unclipped feathers of a raptor’s flight. If license lies in what I write of you, I wish to make my visions of you true.


We Named Her Loki And that means mischief. Loki, Norse trickster god, shape-shifter. It takes active verbs just to name this sable bitch-puppy, earthquake inside our walls. Teeth and bark. Loki never low-key but finally asleep after a morning’s mayhem she twitches, chasing rabbits in her sleep, giants and mythic monsters, or just keeping time to her fierce heart-drummer.


Dynamo 5 a.m., she vaults onto the pillow – no easy landing. “Wake up!” She’s all angles – elbow, hock, shoulder-blade knocking against our sleep. Machine of intricately meshed gears on a drive-train spine. Pure energy and moving parts. You wake up cursing her knuckle in your eye. Nothing in our life is safe now. She roughs the cat and rags old dog Cowboy; rearranges the living room. And then she unwinds in a flash, on her back beside me for a tummy-rub, her tongue a love-flick against my hand. Whoops, up and running – she’s a constant change of plan. Where’s the sweet puppy wound into a steel spring?


Nature Walk At trailhead, gathering their gear, two balding men with binoculars, an older woman in shorts and sensible boots; a young family with three small children. It’s April, trails blossoming through the fields. One little girl with bandaged knee can’t take her eyes off our car – hatchback open – old dog Cowboy napping behind the driver’s seat and, squirming to be free, our new pup, Loki. The little girl breaks loose, runs wide-eyed reaching for soft sable fur and puppy-wags. Without a word, her mother hauls her back. Girl and puppy never break the bond of child-eyes.

— 10 —

Puppy Horde What’s that, by the computers? Just Loki, into everything she shouldn’t. A pile of important papers on the floor. The box of old cables & connections, misc hardware we don’t use but it might come in handy someday. Now she’s off down the hall, leaping on the bed – rummaging the bedding – What’s this? Her rawhide bone tucked between our pillows. She drops it on a stack of floppy-disks, outdated software, not-quitecastoffs. And from the pile of Very Important Papers she carefully extracts the single glove she loves to chew. Bad dog? A hoarder, just like we are. Except, she knows exactly where she left each treasure, and where and how to find it.

— 11 —

In the Rough Her sisters sold for a lot of money. Pick of the litter, she was bought, and returned. Too bright, too hard. A diamond? We got her for a prayer, and now we’re paying. Leash and chokechain collar, nothing makes her slow. She pulls me out the door, up the hill – look, it’s morning! Dawn gleams gold-amber in a puppy’s thousand-carat eye. She shows me purple thistle absolutely free, and on the wildly blooming mustard-flower, a sapphire dragonfly.

— 12 —

Museum of Trees

at the Institute of Forest Genetics

I study the tag, finger the ridged bark, and let my eyes climb up, toward the crown. Pinus lambertiana. And here’s P. jeffreyi. Farther down the path, feathery Torreya californica. At leash-end, my new puppy’s reading too, but with her nose. Pine-needle duff. Cone of a Ponderosa; giant cone of Digger pine – do their DNAs smell different? My pup tugs me from tree to tree, from path to pebble. A raven flaps overhead. Cloud shadows, scuffs in dirt. The two of us deciphering this forest, our world.

— 13 —

The Zen of Puppy Training She’s worn us both out with mismatch sits and stays; she breaks – why can’t she learn simple English commands? and now she’s high as April grass on the ground, humming to herself, a silent music simply breathing free. I drop the leash and wander off to watch the gopherweed in bloom, the bees have found it, tiny golden bees wild as April puppies, moving in and out of all the intricate harbors of gopher-flower green as I wander in and out of thought-flower, flies and bees and one silken moth. My puppy’s breath a perfect song.

— 14 —

Off Leash at the Pond She wades out into reedy shallows, the pond smelling of swampwater, fishes, frogs, feather of an egret. Something leaps into blue air. All she’s ever known of oceans is a water-bowl spilled on the kitchen floor. Now she puppy-whirls in unexpected splashes, rainbow scatters of light. Her brief world has never been so fluid, so possible; water un-composing itself in spurts and ripplecircles, spirals. She dashes making waves of untamed Vs flying across the surface as she water-saults. I throw a stick, she grabs it bobbing – legs teaching her to swim, to become waterscape wild on wild. I’ll take home a drenched puppy smelling of wet dog, swampwater. She’ll be swimming in her dreams tonight.

— 15 —

Flea Loki spins to bite her tail, her teeth nip deep in fur, her breath rumbles up the whole twisting tunnel, gut-throat-washboard roof of mouth; lips flap-splat expellated air like bug swatters. Teeth. I tell her “No!” and snap my hand back. Puppy-teeth sharp and bright, inquisitive. A frenzy – what has she to nibble but herself, the flea that lives by her own blood, hot and young; that itches like every unnamed thing she wants to seize between her teeth to chew and taste, to know. How else does a puppy grow?

— 16 —

Latest Draft Accident creates our new world – a meteor’s fallen to earth, and everyone’s rushing out, searching for the pieces. A fortune. I’ve picked up shreds of paper off the carpet, once the first draft of a poem revised by puppy-teeth. Smash and shatter of creation, detritus spinning into empty space. My puppy scratches at the door, whining to run free. Pure energy seeking a vacuum, a dark hole in the fence, pull of a distant sun.

— 17 —

A Household Tale “It was meant,” we say, when on a common Wednesday, we’re driving into unknown territory, we don’t know what off-ramp or where to go from there, but somehow we end up at the address. And even though the promised princess appears a beast, well, you’ve heard the story before, it’s in all the fairy and cautionary tales. A mischief sneaks through your door, past good sense. Nothing as it seems, it’s all enchantment, or disguise. Better judgment gives way to “it was meant to be.” This is how she came here. I call her name and she puts her teeth away, remembering a month of instruction, and licks my hand. I look into deep brown puppy-eyes that read my mind. It was meant to be.

— 18 —

Ode to a Carrot Here’s Earth’s bounty bundled in 25lb bags ready for juicing. No hands-and-knees grubbing then scrubbing at sink, growthrings and wrinkles, dirt under nails. But what’s that crunching sound? The puppy’s grabbed a carrot from the bag, dashed off brandishing, kitchen to hall. And now she lies munching raw-crisp gold as if she’d dug it up like stick or bone, free for the taking. Does it smell of the good, tilled ground it came from? Tip to crown, it says, Take and eat. Shall I try to get it back? There she goes, high-tailing kitchen to bedroom to hall; then settles again, holding the carrot between carefullest paws, gnawing this sweet old root she’s found.

— 19 —

Magic For weeks, old dog Cowboy growled and grumbled at the new pup, and begged us to make her disappear. She ragged him, hung from his ruff, bit him on the ear. An old dog only longs for quiet, his peaceful cedar-bed, a slow amble down the grassy swale to sleep beside the running stream. But this morning, he lifts his paw and bows, as if asking her a question; looking her life in the eyes – puppy eyes. Magic, this old-dog invitation to the dance.

— 20 —

Obedience Just try to teach her straight lines: Forward! (at a brisk walk, her nose at my knee) Halt! (with a snappy sit beside me) – but she forges at leash’s end, pulls me past the painted lines & out the gate & thru the unmown grasses. There’s a world out here! It’s neither straight nor narrow. It eludes my rules & triggers every of her instincts. She weaves & dashes across my path, she trips me on a tug to reach this particular spot of green that looks to me like any other. Ah! But how different it smells to a dog’s exquisite nose.

— 21 —

Chickens Sunday after church. The whole town, it seems, is gathered at the park. I’ve got a ziplock bag with a crumpled Kleenex (Kate’s) inside. Clip my pup in harness, open the bag: “Check Kate. Track Kate!” Fast! up the sidewalk. Quick turn onto wet lawn, past the war memorial – my pup stops to sniff a girl cast in bronze leaning her grief against gray marble. Her figure’s human but the scent is wrong; my pup moves on across asphalt to City Hall – I know my dog’s on-track when I’m out of breath. “Who’s walking who?” a young guy sitting on a bench calls out as we race by. Outside the zoo, a peacock struts the path (“No peacock!” But Loki doesn’t know that word – “No bird!”). Kids in yellow soccer jerseys. Free-range chickens pecking scraps (“No chicken!” does she know?… “No bird!”). But already she’s dashing up the walk – jerk of her head to the left, she turns mid-stride to greet Kate hidden behind plumbago in bloom (“Good dog!”) just as a Banty rooster march-steps by. “No chicken!” Each day her word-hoard like a bone-collection grows. — 22 —

A Photo’s Worth Nine months old today. She lies in brief puppy-sleep beside me. If I reached for my camera, she’d be instantly awake, ruining the pose. So I try to memorize the broad curve of forehead, muzzle, graceful shepherd saber-tail at rest. A camera would miss how the fine, stiff, sable hairs over her breastbone lift imperceptibly as she breathes; the wakeful slit of pupil-bright between halfclosed lids. If I moved, in a blink she’d be on her feet. She’d be pure energy too fast for my finger to aim to focus the lens. How could a camera catch what the mind sees?

— 23 —

Tree of Heaven My puppy pulls me up an alley, backside of Main; a narrow one-way track that bucks over stony humps and dodges mountain ribs. Nosing through periwinkle, she shows me a grown-over Gold Rush adit where someone dragged an old couch cushion for the night, and then moved on, leaving his human scent behind. My pup pulls me along, lunging past locked backdoors of business, stone steps leading nowhere. She stops. From cracks in concrete grows a tree. Ailanthus, heavenly weed rooted where pavement buckles into bedrock. Its bark is scarred and split like a finger doing rock-work. The cracks sprout feather-fans, new shoots so luxuriant, Loki plunges into the midst as if to sniff out its secrets. She sets the whole tree tingling, garlands of seed-wings ready to fly, to take root somewhere else – farther up the alley. My puppy wants to lead me there, to show me scabbed gray bark scar-healed into wild green growth.

— 24 —

Taking Her Back I have simply ordered a box of maniacs. - Sylvia Plath, “The Arrival of the Bee Box” Black cat, Possum – from the shelter we brought her home. She disappeared through a slit in the box-springs lining. At last she emerged to curl in a purr on my lap. Years later she disappeared of old age, to return, sometimes, as shadow. Piper, unlovely pup we meant to sell – untaught, she clambered up a flight of open stairs to navigate the world of loft, across the house, down the other side, carrying the big dog’s favorite toy – to us. How could we not keep her? Incorrigible. She comes to me in dreams. And now this reckless Loki – all leap, grinning teeth, grabbing paws; she understands every word I say, the whole sentence. Lying on her back now, offering her chest; quieting as I stroke the fierce heart under fur. Must it be the tough ones who teach us the most?

— 25 —

Raising Dead Winter Morning cold-drill to the bone. My puppy says “let’s go!” Before my fingers on the long-line thaw, we’re past the soccer field. My pup is fueled up, flying! Pulling me along, up the shortcut into woods, we hit the dirt-bike trail (47 humps & dips in a hundred yards). She won’t break stride except to nudge a bedroll stashed behind a tree – fresh human scent! Up to the rodeo grounds, around the horse arena – if I could bottle this lightning puppy heartbeat; if I could sell it, I’d be rich. The little zoo; three wolves watching us through fence; my pup doesn’t flinch, she’s wild & focused, she’s on-trail. We keep on running. And here’s our quarry, Kim, sitting on a bench. I’m out of breath but energized, revived – as good as rich. The sun’s gold coin shines tiny, high and cold.

— 26 —

No Lake, But Golden Remember that hike to the lake? Spirit set on how a puppy’s lungs blossom in mountain air upcountry, blue sky impending thunder, roadside paintbrush fingering up through granite – But there was no parking at the trailhead. I chose a muddy, dead-end track through meadow. A cow trail beckoned off the map; crossed a stream through lodgepole. No promise of a lake, no view. We climbed hot, bare rock. Not the hike I’d hoped for. I let my puppy choose the way. With no view of a lake, we stopped while I considered; then kept climbing bare granite. My pup sniffed in crevices for each new scent, and dashed to edges. I looked up at weather – blue sky impending thunder – an eagle? Golden Eagles keep no count of lakes. This one sailed overhead, then rose on thermals, disappeared off the map. Golden spirit of the hike.

— 27 —

— 28 —

About the Author For over 35 years Taylor Graham has been a volunteer search-and-rescue dog handler. She and her husband have trained their German Shepherds to find missing people—in Alaska, rural Virginia, and California. She’s a veteran of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the Berkeley-Oakland Hills firestorm, and other disasters, as well as hundreds of searches for lost hunters and hikers, elderly walkaways, victims of drowning, avalanche and homicide. For ten years she edited the National Association for Search and Rescue’s SAR Dog ALERT newsletter. With her search dog, she spent two summers as a Forest Service volunteer ranger in the Mokelumne Wilderness. No longer on SAR callout, she still trains her dogs at least weekly; German Shepherds don’t understand retirement. Her poetry appears widely in small press, including Black Moon, The Iowa Review, Nerve Cowboy, The New York Quarterly, Poetry International, and Southern Humanities Review. She’s included in the anthologies Villanelles (Everyman’s Library) and California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Santa Clara University). Her book The Downstairs Dance Floor was awarded the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize.

— 29 —

The Lummox Press publishes chapbooks, the Little Red Book series, perfect bound books (the Respect series) and e-books. The stated goal of the press is to elevate the bar for poetry, while bringing the ‘word’ to an international audience. We are proud to offer this chapbook as part of that effort. For more information and to see our growing catalog of choices, please go to www.lummoxpress.com

Loki the Instigator How to deal with a challenging new puppy? With lots of training, and with poetry. I’ve never written so many poems about bringing up a pup and what it teaches. Writing the Loki poems reminded me of her predecessors—40 years of German Shepherds trained for search-andrescue; hundreds of missions looking for lost people. I couldn’t help comparing Loki with those wonderful old dogs, and the stages of their progress from puppy to search-partner. Loki gave me a new perspective, and reminded me how those old dogs were still very much alive in my mind. She was the impetus for this chapbook, and for What the Wind Says, a full-length collection about my years of working dogs (coming later this year from Lummox Press). —Taylor Graham—

For ordering information, visit at www.lummoxpress.com

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