Unlike Conquest

by Nate Duke

At trawling speed over blasted red dirt forest road,
I lean into the wheel and reach my left arm back
to crank down the window, let the dogs get some air.
I’d feel something about them getting hopped around
in the cab, but the edge of the backwoods was miles ago
and they’re dogs. As a boy I was in the house
when a female dog was brought to the yard, inhabited
by two male dogs and the boy said to the dad
“they’re fighting over her” and the dad said, “they’re dogs,
they’ll work it out. If they draw blood they’ll work it out.”

I drove them out there to sic the micaceous sandstone
upstart of a rival mountain that we’d seen
from Flatside Mountain’s peak after someone had cut down
the sapling that had blocked the view south over Lake Winona.
If you downclimb Flatside’s sheer face you can find her mouth:
a rainmade crater with floating wisps of bark fungus and sunken
eggshells. Our intent was to feed her the head of the upstart,
the peak of the rival mountain. She’s self-conscious, you see.
From Erebor to Rainier, she knows where she stands
in relation to the lone peaks of our imagination.
Crouched on her lower lip I tell her, “they may have miles
of height and dragons on you but you satisfy me.”
I’ll be back in the summer to find her ears.

The dogs and I got lost in the self-referential
logging roads en route to the enemy.
Stopping to let them out, they hid from me behind my legs.
I tried to buckle them in the seatbelts: bad idea. Knee driving
and holding down each dog till I hit asphalt: good idea.
I never taught them to sic or ride in a truck anyway.
Consoling ourselves, maybe she doesn’t have eyes,
and doesn’t know about the enemy.
Maybe I’m the enemy, crawling over her face.

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