That Sure is My Little Dog

Eleanor Lerman

Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the
brainiacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers,
the oddball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still
sizzling in our blood? Don’t tell me that you bought
our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me,
we’re nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work
and to speak as if we cared about our education. And
I guess the music fooled you: you thought we’d keep
the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well,
too bad. It’s all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts.
What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes
itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.

More by Eleanor Lerman

The Mystery of Meteors

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me 
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss, 
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer, 
open windows, find beads to string with pearls 
You would not think that I had survived 
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air 
She has been alone, she has known danger, 
and so now she watches for it always 
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes. 
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly, 
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly, 
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning 
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me 
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood, 
come love, not love, millennia of portents-- 
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing 
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

Starfish

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds

This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in 
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night
She says: all the chandeliers were broken and in the winter,
you couldn’t get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy. She thinks she is speaking 
about the days before she left, but I think, actually, that she is 
recounting history. Somebody should be writing all this down

Or not. Perhaps the transition from Communism to a post-Soviet 
federation as seen through the eyes of a woman who was hoping, 
at least, for an influx of French cosmetics is of interest only to me.
And why not? It seems that the fall of a great empire—revolution! 
murder! famine! martial music!—has had a personal effect.
Picture an old movie: here is the spinning globe, the dotted line 
moving, dash by dash, from Moscow across the ocean to 
New York and it’s headed straight for me. Another blonde 
with an accent: the city’s full of them. Nostrovya! A toast 
to how often I don’t know what’s coming at me next.

So here is a list of what she left behind: a husband, an abortion, 
a mathematical education, and a black market career in 
trading currencies. And what she brought: a gray poodle, 
eight dresses and a fearful combination of hope, sarcasm, 
and steel-eyed desire to which I have surrendered. And now 
I know her secrets: she will never give up smoking.
She would have crawled across Eastern Europe and fed 
that dog her own blood if she had to. And her mother’s secrets: 
she would have thought, at last, that you were safe with me.
She hated men. Let me, then, acknowledge that last generation 
of the women of the enemy: they are a mystery to me.
They would be a mystery even to my most liberal-minded friends.

That’s not to say that the daughter, this new democrat, can’t be 
a handful. And sometimes noisy: One of those girls you see 
now (ice blue manicure, real diamonds and lots of DKNY)
leans over from the next table and says, Can’t you ask your wife 
to hold it down? My wife? I suppose I should be insulted, 
but I think it’s funny. This is a dangerous woman they want 
to quiet here. A woman who could sew gold into the ragged lining
of anybody’s coffin. Who knows that money does buy freedom.
Who just this morning has obtained a cell phone with a bonus plan.
She has it with her, and I believe she means to use it.
Soon, she will be calling everyone, just to wake them up.