Grace Among the Ferns

The ferns—sharp lime green, lean over 
the concrete like a woman over a boardwalk 
on a bright spring day like this, though maybe it is better 
with Grace’s curious nose assessing the damp earth
while ignoring its copious lizards. 
There is joy in the soft butt
of a dog disappearing into its daily necessities.
I am not sure I have ever had such a joy, 
either in discovery or expectation. Looking out
over the side of a boat
with a hat as wide as this fern 
is Grace, of the delicate paws.
I have never liked it: The Spring. But this is the 
end of Spring! First yellow of summer. They say a poet 
can never write a purely happy poem about a dog 
greeting the sun and what it has done to rain.
I don’t know about that. 
I am light like a canine’s memory; 
a minute, a world. Where one of the greatest 
and most daring feats is to enjoy 
the breeze’s slow boat of fertilization
made by other dogs of other years—the scent of
living in and of itself. Grace among the ferns
likes to place her body right over the pulpit 
of the last dog, so they know. I am here, too. Living.
Lime green ribbons touch her soft, wet nose.

Ariadne Plays the Physician

We must set this story straight.
We must say there is another angle

to this foreign particle

lodged in my ribs like a small ivory
tiger or a Chinese lamp, the oil

coating my bones. Theseus,
you know you didn't break me.

I was the one who came to you
with a magnifying glass,

needing my Oxford credits

for the University of Someone Wants Me:
my gold-sealed social stigma.

I made my own marks. & everyone
should know it—I have an A+

in the humors of you. I was
an Edison bulb in a child’s bedchamber,

a Spanish fan flirting with fire,

smoking as pity turned to shock
at mediocre parties where conversations

are weak with the ordinary.
My outfit betrayed me—you wept 

right through my clinical gloves
like a little boy

with a bad heart & a mean streak.

I monitored your ailments, but my logic 
was circular: What is man? What is

man? What is this man doing here
with me? No bright conclusion.

I was bad at doctoring the truth.
I was in it for myself. & the skull

I carried in my hand in case
anyone took record? Still on my fingers.

Bitch Instinct

Before this day I loved
like an animal loves a human,
 
with no way to articulate
how my bones felt in bed
 
or how a telephone felt so strange
in my paw. O papa—
 
I called out to no one—
but no one understood. I didn’t
 
even. I wanted to be caught. Like
let me walk beside you on my favorite leash,
 
let my hair grow long and wild
so you can comb it in the off-hours,
 
be tender to me. Also let me eat
the meals you do not finish 	
 
so I can acclimate, climb into
the way you claim this world.
 
Once, I followed married men:
eager for shelter, my fur
 
curled, my lust
freshly showered.
 
I called out, Grief.
They heard, Beauty.                      	
 
I called out, Why?
They said, Because I can and will.
 
One smile could sustain me for a week.
I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy,        	
 
my skin carried the ether of a so-so
self-esteem. I felt fine. I was
 
fine, but I was also looking
for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me.
 
You think because I am a woman,
I cannot call myself a dog?
 
Look at my sweet canine mind,
my long, black tongue. I know
 
what I’m doing. When you’re with
the wrong person, you start barking.
 
But with you, I am looking out
this car window with a heightened sense
 
I’ve always owned. Oh every animal
knows when something is wrong.
 
Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong,
and I was right, and I was wrong.

Related Poems

The Charm of 5:30

It’s too nice a day to read a novel set in England.

We’re within inches of the perfect distance from the sun,
the sky is blueberries and cream,
and the wind is as warm as air from a tire.
Even the headstones in the graveyard
           seem to stand up and say “Hello! My name is...”

It’s enough to be sitting here on my porch,
thinking about Kermit Roosevelt,
following the course of an ant,
or walking out into the yard with a cordless phone
           to find out she is going to be there tonight.

On a day like today, what looks like bad news in the distance
turns out to be something on my contact, carports and
white courtesy phones are spontaneously reappreciated
           and random “okay”s ring through the backyards.

This morning I discovered the red tints in cola
                     when I held a glass of it up to the light
and found an expensive flashlight in the pocket of a winter coat
                     I was packing away for summer.

It all reminds me of that moment when you take off your
sunglasses after a long drive and realize it’s earlier
and lighter out than you had accounted for.

You know what I’m talking about,
and that’s the kind of fellowship that’s taking place in town, out in
the public spaces. You won’t overhear anyone using the words
“dramaturgy” or “state inspection” today. We’re too busy getting along.

It occurs to me that the laws are in the regions and the regions are
in the laws, and it feels good to say this, something that I’m almost
sure is true, outside under the sun.

Then to say it again, around friends, in the resonant voice of a
nineteenth-century senator, just for a lark.

There’s a shy looking fellow on the courthouse steps, holding up
a placard that says “But, I kinda liked Clinton.” His head turns slowly
as a beautiful girl walks by, holding a refrigerated bottle up against
her flushed cheek.

She smiles at me and I allow myself to imagine her walking into
town to buy lotion at a brick pharmacy.
When she gets home she’ll apply it with great lingering care
before moving into her parlor to play 78 records and drink gin-and-tonics
beside her homemade altar to James Madison.

In a town of this size, it’s certainly possible that I’ll be invited over
one night.

In fact I’ll bet you something.

Somewhere in the future I am remembering today. I’ll bet you
I’m remembering how I walked into the park at five thirty,
my favorite time of day, and how I found two cold pitchers
of just poured beer, sitting there on the bench.

I am remembering how my friend Chip showed up
with a catcher’s mask hanging from his belt and how I said

great to see you, sit down, have a beer, how are you,
and how he turned to me with the sunset reflecting off his
contacts and said, wonderful, how are you.

Who Is God? So Asked Our Dog

How many seasons are there?
Where was God born?
How many stars?
Who discovered every single one of the Americas and all of the other places?
Do some dwarves live in caves?
Is your mother singing in church tonight?
Is your father setting his hat on his head?
Do those goldfish belong to you?
Why did their God rise from the dead?
Could it be because of a forgotten pencil?
Do you like to study history?
Is this your book?
Where does cotton grow?
Why did the Holy Family go to Egypt. What is the Holy Family?
Do you see frightened ghosts on the streets sometimes?
I see the dog in your eye.
How would you like this to end?
Gone was a dog off to where a dog wants to go.
Who needed some help from old friends?
Do you see the question mark at the end of this sentence?
Somewhat maligned Pandora remains a curious person.



Photo of Dara Wier, James Tate, Guy Pettit & Emily Pettit's beloved Scottie. She goes by Maggie, Maggy, and Magpie, variously, and is "responsible for this poem."

Epistemological

I could have chosen to write this poem about the
drastically entitled and out-of-his-mind-seeming
white septuagenarian who, clearly upset, yowled
I’M ABOUT TO BE UPSET, while turning to address
a line-out-the-door post office like we were attending
his performance art piece, who said he was going to
BLOW UP THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT because YOU
wouldn’t give him a money order without proper ID, & I know,
technically, now I have written this poem about him, but would
you please set that aside for the moment & let me write to you
about how you remind me of a babysitter from my childhood—
Alex or Ian, Allison or Marie—telling me a secret I’m not supposed
to know just yet, because of age or subjective cultural context,
in your 2-door Honda bumping let’s talk about sex baby
as I gulp cans of Mr. Pibb in the backseat. You whisper
capital-T truth to me not to gain social capital, nor thwart
thine enemy, nor even to gain my confidence so that one day,
in the thick of an apocalyptic-type emergency, as we surely
shall be, I will decide to take you on my proverbial lifeboat
above all the others, no, nor not for any other self-serving
reason do you ladle generous amounts of altruistic, tender,
personal attention upon me, but just for that the fact that
we are alive together in this moment in time and space
and this post office was once a buffet-style restaurant
where, as a kid, I looked forward to eating the few times
of year we did, because this particular establishment
had the option to devour unlimited amounts of pizza
& soft serve ice cream, which now, you divulge to me,
the guys in the back call it The Posterosa, which
delights me, which salves me, which allows me to see
we a little more truly, this revealing of our secrets,
this dogged bursting through of taboo, which
palimpsests our souls a little closer with you
on me on I on us on them on they on we.