• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 11
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Portrait of Couple With Dog

I said, Look at me,
straight into the lens

but she couldn't,
her attention wandered

constantly. I almost
asked, after he'd gone,

taken the dog for a walk.
But when she thanked

me, shook my hand, then
she looked me in the eye

and I understood. We do
the best we can.

1

Saturday 18th September, 1977

For my first birthday, I was given a silver rattle, with my name and birthday on it.
For my second birthday, I was given a teddy called Sam, and two new books.
For my third birthday, there was a pirate outfit, which I did not take off until I was Four. Then there was a set of toy cars, which I loved.
And a checked coat when I was five, I think, that my mother made for me.
When I was six, she took me to a wild, overgrown park full of stones. And said,
Your grandfather is here: and when I was seven, I went back again to say Hi.
When I was eight, I wanted a party in MacDonalds, but she said no,
And nine, was the year of the Complete Children’s Encyclopedia.
I knew everything by the time I was ten – double figures, they said:
Now you’re almost a grown up. When I was eleven, I found out before the day
That I was getting a puppy. Sarah, that’s what I called her, had the longest ears of any dog you’ve ever seen. She was one when I was twelve, we shared the cake, 112.
I got my first trip to London, when I was thirteen, to see Phantom of the Opera
Even though what I wanted was hair straighteners, so I could look more like
My little sister, who everyone loved.

Read more >

2

The zzz of crackle and distortion

They don’t love me,
these people.
The one combing my hair,
she and he, so smartly dressed,
hoping I may win a prize.
But I won’t, you know/
They’ll see the anxiety in her eyes,
and somehow they’ll know.

He was born as the long war was just coming to an end.
And she, she still stammers with the aftershocks of bombs.
These things can coat a life.

Last night, over curry and menthol cigarettes, they made the plans.
Discussing what time to leave, and how much leeway
to give the traffic.
There’s a lot of money riding on this.

They were up early, earlier than usual.
The day misty, the sun just barely puffing through the cold.
He’s had me three years; she came into our lives two years ago.
There’s so much hope riding on this.
Too much hope you know, I want to tell them that.
But no-one’s listening.

Read more >
3

The Animal Whisperer

- He scoops me under the muzzle; twigs that scratch and tickle like I remember in the autumn - that split and slip under muddy paws. Only except this smell is different. I can't describe it - for a better word - it tastes, feels, human.

- It rakes just across the neck and for a moment and I can feel the furs yawn and stretch across my back. It's a delicious feeling and the fear of the crowd flits away.

- In-between fights on the street, I can feel my atavism melt away like a pill on the tongue - creating new sensations, new thoughts to the point I get lost in them. I barely see other dogs anymore. Just these aliens waddling slowly on two legs whilst I wait for them to catch up. Those beautiful humans. They have moulded me into their shape. I should be grateful.

I mean, we'll never know if the look in the dog's eyes is a forlorn plea to the world to release it to the fields where it can pin and tear a rabbit without being called a criminal, but I'd be in the wrong business. I don't think the Pet Shop would appreciate the copy.

4

Him

Did he see the shoes I put on this morning? He didn't hear me saying what a good time we had in the park on Saturday. His mother has sewn the seams of this jacket, he said, after a night out with his mates. I remembered when I first saw him, holding a drink as if it was a hidden plea - I thought he wanted something from me. I answered his call as he ruffled his peacock feathers and I sat on the stool as I ordered a drink. He seems taken by the dog. I think he's buying it. We are taking him home.
5

NOT ALOUD

I lost my hairdo.
You really really loved the fabric.
Tell me the words that yesterday barked
like a promise with a shoulder pad
like an eyebrow on the promised land.
I feel your ribs.
You comb my dog's heart.

Our love is the opposite of a gesture.
Weak or tender, not aloud.

6

Well Groomed

That morning she’d puffed up her hair to a perfect bouffant, teasing out the curls with a plastic comb until it sat just right.

She presented herself to him in the living room.

“Morning Jerry.”

But he didn’t look up.

He was busy fluffing up the hair around Angelina’s paws.

He used a special brush for this, one with soft horse hair bristles and a mother of pearl handle.

An expensive and extravagant trinket for a dog, she’d always thought.

“She looks nice” she said.

He looked up then, a little startled, as if only now aware of her presence.

A small smile unfurled at the corner of his mouth and he released a little sigh of satisfaction.

“Attention to detail Sarah” he explained “That’s what distinguishes the winners from the losers.”

She thought about that.

She’d been a winner once herself.

Back in the day, Jerry had been quite a prize, the one all the girls wanted.

She had strutted like a beauty queen when she nabbed him, relishing the jealous stares thrown at her every time they walked down the street.

Read more >

7

Strike A Pose

He bought the dog in the stage of early love. The showing started later. He poured all in to the grooming, the stance, and hours of placing every hair just so.
      Such fuss over details was beyond her.
      The dog endured his nuances of touch that signalled waiting atop tables, the waft of shampooed fur, and yaps of other competitors. Worse, though, were the stranger's hands that evaluated strength and shine.
      If rewarded with a rosette, he was assured of their progress.
8

What the heck

I’d rather we didn’t win and I’d prefer not to do the walk. If you’re giving me a choice – yeah, yeah, I know you’re not, never have, never will – I’ll take my lunch and mooch. If it’s all the same to you – it isn’t! I know it! – I’ll just leave it and maybe go for dreads – the chance! A fine thing!
You see, the fact is, there’s a rumour in this world that there’s this mutual thing going on, but I’m the only one with any self-awareness around here. Okay – maybe, just maybe - she has a little – sometimes. But you – ah, what to say? – look at yourself. Instead of looking at me, look in the mirror. Not the check, not the knot, no, not the lapels, not the hair – just look at you and tell me what you see. Get naked, like I’m naked, and do the thinking thing. Don’t go thinking about what she’s thinking or the others are thinking. Just look, hold your reflection, and do your thinking. What do you see? Put the brush down first. Forget all that dog stuff – go on, it’s just you as a human person and you as a guy with thoughts. Ah, stop the shrugging. Come on, how difficult is this? Look at her then – you could learn a lot from that face. From me, you’ll learn nothing – you’re too busy imposing to get anyway near learning anything from me. Ah, I mean – why – ah, what the heck. I give up. I’m through with you. I’m through with you all over my inside. I’ll be doing this again next month and the month after that, but the judges are going to see something new when they look in my eyes and they’re not going to like it one little bit.
9

A Dog’s Life

So here we are again,
on the grooming-table.
I can feel that sizzly old
styling-brush stretching
my ears right down to
those frilly skirts they give me.
Ouch. I think my legs are fine
as they are, but there you go.

You know what they say,
how these people come to
look like us? They’re both
primped, too, all fluffed up
for the judges. His mind’s
on the job, don’t know
what’s got into her. It must
be something in the breed.
They’re notoriously moody
and so unpredictable.

Read more >

10

Trip to Brighton

‘I love my dog as much as I love you.’
Remember that Cat Steven’s song?
You played it non-stop on the trip
to Brighton for your birthday in 1967.
Your mum had given you his new album,
‘Matthew and Son’.

We parked the Ford Zephyr on the sea front
then walked to the pier.
We screamed on the ghost train,
ate plates of whelks and chips,
then sat on the beach til the sun went down.

It was a quiet drive home - you couldn’t
find the Cat Steven’s tape.
I gazed out the window smiling,
as I pictured it surfing the waves.

11

Wait

I stand coiffured to the ninth degree.
I smell of lavender and oil of rose.
It hangs in the air offends my nose.
I look like some parody my grandfather would snarl at
Then toss in his jaws to the ditch.
My shame overpowers me.

I dimly recall the feel of snow between my paws
A distant memory.
The thrill, the shot, the whistle, the chase.
The smell of fresh blood dripping from my jaws
Ruby red and thick.

I will make you pay Cruella Deville
I may look resigned to my fate
But wait.....
Your evil eyes do not scare me
I am biding time.
Just wait.....

12

BOUFFANT

In all the dog shows in all the world
you had to walk into mine.

You administer the brush
the gel and the treats.

I follow you around the 1950s
the 60s and the 70s agog.

My God, you are a distraction-
I feel cold but necessary to you.

But without you and Fido
what would I be?

You and he
are prettier than me.

13

The Camera Never Lies

Here we all stand together,
… Roger? and … Rover?... and me,
But if I could choose to be somewhere else,
I’d go for wine in the refreshment marquee.

It's the County's annual dog show,
And this awful mutt has just won,
So I have to stand and be photographed
And pretend that I’m having fun.

Now you didn’t hear that, did you?... Roger?
It's clear Rover's your great pride and joy,
And I know that I have to keep a straight face,
Which is why I’m looking so coy.

I'm only here because Daddy
Is on duty as local Mayor,
So here we are in the paper – all three -
With our fashionably fuzzy hair.

14

Best in Show

It had been fun when she was younger. Margaret had enjoyed helping her family train show dogs instead of looking for a summer job during high school. Their dogs had a reputation, and the money she could earn from prizes beat whatever she would be making as a cashier or camp counselor. Even her friends who snagged the coveted lifeguard positions had been envious.

“So you hang out with dogs all day and you get paid for it? Sounds like a dream!”

And sure, there were benefits besides the money. Margaret enjoyed the feeling of eyes on her as she guided the dog in front of the judges. Perfect posture. Head held high. She felt her own body straightening under the judges’ hands as they checked the dog. She swelled with pride when her dog, Lacey, was named Best in Show.

None of her success mattered when her brother Pete decided to rejoin the family business. Now, Pete would hold the leash and have final say on the dog’s appearance. She hated how he spent hours fluffing out Lacey’s paws, making her body look like it rested on bowls. Pete was flashier and more charismatic. Each night at family dinner, he spoke endlessly of changes that they should make in their strategy, even suggesting they change Lacey’s name to something “more memorable.” He said they should hire some employees, branch out into different breeds, and their parents nodded like their heads might fall off, because finally their son was involved. This business, the family business, had always been for him.

She should have quit. She should have tried to find another job — but no! Why should she have to change her entire life because Pete decided this mattered to him after all those years away?

Read more >

15

How much is that doggy on the table?

Well excuse me, more I should hope,
than those stupid retro throwbacks.

I mean to say Messieurs and Mesdames.
Just take a butchers.
(Well I am fit as a butcher’s dog).
At my luxuriant silky coat,
coiffured to an inch of my taut lithe body.

Ears pricked and groomed.
Eyes on alert for les chiennes.
They are so chic and elegant
and strut their stuff.
with owners who actually look the part.

Seriously who could believe,
moi belonged to them.
I long for Audrey Tatou with her artless style
and gamin gallic charm.
Camille Lacourt who I would splash
about with – any time, any place
Just name the doggy pool.

Instead I am stuck
with bad hair days anonymous
and if I don’t receive a best in show.
I will take a bite out of their derrieres.
Just see if I don’t – And excuse me
I couldn’t care a bonio if this is Crufts.

16

Spare me the victim discourse

The Lamberts were not quite like the Limpleys, in Bath, although the dog's name was also Ponto.
There was no drama, the dog was never kicked out of the house, as the wife never got pregnant. In fact, he wouldn't even look at her, let alone touch her. They were my parents' age, and they had always been together. “Poor old Claire”, my mother used to say. Claire always gazed into the void, and Don was always proud of his wonderful painting, acquired at the last auction, his elegant car, his well-groomed dog. That's the way he put it: we had abandoned the ideal of beauty, and that was a crime. Make everything around you beautiful and you will merge with that environment you have painstakingly created. Yet another monomania, I thought.

But pride was never beautiful, as you could never fill the world with just one thing. And things keep moving, and Don struggles to keep things the way they were, collecting objects, regretting youth, adoring all things eternal, speaking a language crystallised by an institution which has remained unquestioned for centuries, trying to teach us all to think in a world that no longer exists, if it ever existed at all.

And Claire? Claire is no victim. I will have none of that “Poor old Claire”. She sits there, quiet, rolling one after the other, perfectly symmetrical cigarettes, which she aligns, before placing them in her cigarette case, a beautiful ivory-sculpted case Don gave her for their last anniversary.

No, there is no “Poor old Claire”, just as Don's world is obscene.

And don't you even dare ask me if it ever crossed my mind to consider Ponto's point of view. I have an entire species to worry about first. But I'll do you a small favour and give the dog a new name. Let's call the wretched soul “Pity”.

17

Shorn

Grins pasted to our faces on the usual days are, by that compulsory minor twist, manipulated to sheepish dashes. It is strange to think of it. Last year here, right here, you were standing, sitting and lying just beside. Just beside. Our moments were shrouded in hairiness. We posed involuntarily all the time. It became subconscious I think now. Like the first summer rain seeps half into the soil, and half evaporates back up.

Where did so much of hair and hairiness go? And where is the tidiness gone? How couldn't we ever bloody guess. In communion with animalism, we felt safe and wild; we sought shelter from the brewing storm on our dry riverbeds. And then the waters rose and a flood carried us away.

Now it's a binary chromatic situation and it looks peaceful. We are becoming mannered. The becoming is a transition I don't admire any longer. Why can't we not-become? Why can't it be still for a moment?

It is now still for a moment. It is now. It is now. Is it now.

Now.

18

An Acquired Taste

It was the hunger that hollowed her eyes. She suppressed the swelling of her appetite deliberately with the clasping of hands. As Clancy brushed the beast’s glossy coat, she bit the inside of her cheeks. As Clancy whispered, “Good girl, yes, you are,” into the floppy ears of his pet, Maxine pressed her nails into fat of her palm. With each pant the dog exhaled, Maxine stiffened her back, making sure to keep her face blank. She pressed her lips together as if fused by an invisible sealant, keeping her mouth from announcing the secret of its want. No, it was not immoral. If anything it was an acquired taste. As a child, Maxine was ordinary, agreeable, and sweet. Gentle, much like her father, a veterinarian by trade, she naturally took an interest in animals. By the age of eight, she made a habit of sitting on a stool placed beside her father’s desk as he bent over large books of charts mapping muscle, arteries, and bone. In addition to this fascination, they had the same sharp nose and brown-black eyes. They shared a strong distaste for sweets and an insatiable appetite for flesh. Although she had never seen her father devour the flesh of lesser mammals, Maxine could detect the difference in his face and shoulders after he quieted his pangs of hunger with the bloodied mouth of a calf born cold and the lifeless paw of a dead kitten with a cleft pallet, skinned and prepped for preservation in a jar. He never confessed his appetite to her. Despite this, she knew and she kept his secret with a reverent conviction that it was his love for animals, his love for life that led to the tearing of flesh and the sucking of marrow. Her keeping of his secret kindled curiosity, which begat an appetite of her own. On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Maxine devoured the paraquet her Aunt Mary sent her as a gift in giddy silence, her teeth sinking into its delicate spine. Read more >
19

A lil’ bit of night music

I played Vivaldi to the tomatoes
so I played jazz to the dog.

        What?

Those tomatoes - they were Baroque,
Baroque and Baroll, but this dog -

he ain't got no Bach, but he got howl - he's a jazz dog!
He's a three-am-bar dog, whisky sours
until that hot dawn comes pulling
at your heels doing the beat
with those daring-flared shoes.

That's why he won -
he's a pizzazzy pijazz hound.

       

That's nonsense.
        And you know, Gerald,
        You can't live your life through a dog.
        That's called being vicarious.
        Now come and help polish the trophy cabinet.

Beeswax duster and a head tilt
from those floppy ears
and a look in the eyes
like a hundred years
of music.

Yeah, he's a jazz hound.
He's a jazz dog.
Yeah.

20

Our Saviour

She was meant to be our saviour. After the realisation that we couldn't conceive a child, and the subsequent disbelief, anger, frustration and resignation, we chose to adopt a rescued puppy. She should have been the glue to hold us together, keep us whole, to make our lives mean something again. For a while life was almost bearable again. Then she stole your heart. She became your everything, your reason for getting up in the morning, the last thing you kissed before the lights went out at bed time. The dog show was the point of no return for me. I couldn't go on. I resented your joy and I resented her. I hope you'll be happy together.
21

american hair, american dreams

photo albums
scraps of kodak paper
pictures and dates.
mom and dad and paul and even then mom
was thinking of leaving the former leaving with the latter
leaving for the west.
three with american hair big as
their american dreams pulling them apart.
22

A LIFE TO SWAP

If only they knew the pain behind my eyes.
To stand here feeling every stroke he lovingly administers to the love of his life, my heart aches for to feel what she feels.
To see the look in his eyes as he bathes her, combs here, dotes on her every need, what I would give for him to love me so.
If they only knew my silence.
I stand behind him waiting. My collar chokes me while his love's caresses her. My leash bites while hers, soft and supple is her life line. I dare never to question or ask as she does. I keep my eyes lowered and my stance placid. It is not my place to show pride for his approval and attention.
Do they see what I strive to hide?
Perhaps in time I shall win his attention and admiration. Who knows, one day I may make him proud enough to show such loving care at my grooming. In time...
If only I had a coat over my skin to please him.
Perhaps then I might be granted his bed to share and see my cage left bare.
If only they knew who was his love and who was his pet.
23

Crufts, cupping

The way he cups
his spaniel’s head
               (her name’s Rita)
as he brushes her,
tender, calm,
loving,
               not
the way he draws
my face
                to his,
fingers holding
my chin,
                my throat,
so my breath
has to
ask permission
to come in.
24

He said his name was Dan Druff

In days of old when barbers were bold and dreadlocks weren't invented.
Bad hair days reached epidemic proportions as crazy coiffeurs ran amuck.
With a botched bouffant here and troubled tresses there cranial catastrophes reached crisis point.
They left mayhem and a melange of unmanageable mop tops everywhere.
It was hairdresser hell at the okay chorale as a veritable dog's dinner of maniacal manes were let loose on the unsuspecting public.
Bonces with bounce reached epidemic proportions.
Something for the weekend?
Either that or try wearing a cap!
Protect and survive. Protect and survive.
25

Oh hair

"Do you think?" Estelle said quietly.
"Yes I do." I replied in equally candid tones.
"Do you think?"
"Yes, I, do!" My voice rising to a sibilant hiss.
I carried on combing Bruce. Estelle locked tight to me keeping as close as she could resumed fretting over the situation. Her hands were in constant motion in contradiction to the stillness of the rest of her. Her face pinched in apprehension and thought. Her shoulders held back and down forcing pressure on her neck. She would have a headache later. Her fingers expressed the only visible animation as they kept winding around themselves.
“So humiliating.”
“I'm OK, deliberately didn't comb mine this morning as I knew this would happen. I could probably get away with it.”
“Oh, it's, all, my, fault, is, it!”
“Yes, it, is! You did insist, saying it would save us £40.”
Estelle stayed fixed in place daring not to move for fear of attracting more attention. Imagining the stillness would make her invisible to those around them. Her hands continued to express her unease. At times squeezing themselves so hard that the blood was forced from them and they turned white, the pink ends of the fingers marking where the blood had been pushed to the ends.
“God I can't bear this.”
“You have to, we will be here all day, you have to ignore it and breeze through.”
“I want to run out.”
“And let them win.”
Read more >
26

Peculiar, indeed

This, the last time they were seen - together
one gave up life for the other;
ah, love you are peculiar indeed.
Dog-shows, polo matches, horse racing - kept him company.
Never spared him dignity, did she? Not even in pictures.
Flirting; furtive glances; those little, scurrying hands.
Talk of the town.
And then one day, he was found dead. A few hours after his dog won the dog show.
27

What she lost

As if something like this could make up for what she lost.
As if a life of shows, of make-up, of hoping to be the best, of smiling for the cameras, could prove that everything was OK.
As if the dog were the child.
28

HER CHOICE

There was another assignation last night. The third of which I was aware. She returned earlier this time.
'Pearl', I said firmly (but quaking inside) 'You must choose between us. On the one hand there is Otilee and myself - the pair whom you professed to love for ever. Or you may decide to opt for this mysterious Clive, your unprincipled, smart-ass new lover. However, if you choose him you can kiss goodbye to this gorgeous silky-haired lady. She will stay with me!'
The shouting, screaming and berating me took it's toll on us. Poor Otilee looked bewildered and unhappy. I slept on the sofa, near her basket, whilst Pearl flounced off to our bed, flinging clothes into her suitcase.
This morning we bathed our 'baby' in complete silence.Not one word, or a yelp, was exchanged.I packed the necessary requirements. Quietly, we left the apartment and I hailed a taxi. The air was thick with tension and wafts of patchouli oil (Pearls', not Otilees')
So here we are, groomed and nervous in this hotbed of canine and human expectancy. I am keeping my eyes on a subdued dog ,whilst Pearl stands behind me, seemingly reluctant to take part.
My thoughts keep turning to this Clive character. Who is he? Is he wealthy? Is he good in the sack? How long has he been in the picture?
The room has become hushed. Someone is striding towards us. He looks at Pearl and winks. She blushes and looks away. Realization hits me like an sudden stomach ache. He is the top judge! His word is final.
He is also the reason for those seedy assignations. I feel as though my neck is in a noose, with my new tie and starchy shirt. Don't faint I tell myself.
Clive thoroughly checks Otilee over, then presents me with a large Best In Show certificate.
'A truly beautiful bitch' he smirks.
'So is yours' I shout as they walk away together.'But watch her - she's not a very faithful one!'
29

Her footprint

When you turn from
the heavy sighing of bristles,
the chequer board uniform,
straight lines, wavy lines
it's just a monochrome veneer.

When you ponder on your day
searching deep with a desire
to know.
When you close your eyes
who do you see ?

30

A prayer to Anubis

I hate this decade.
I hate this decade.
Let me reiterate –
I hate this decade.

I am no simple-minded
believer in the Whig story
of never-ending progress;
I know there is back
as well as forward.

But still, for the love of Anubis,
look at me – look at us!
Style dissipated into a marker
that says aesthetic leprosy lives here.

God dammit, the future can’t
arrive quickly enough.
At least these excesses will be forgiven.
But right now, this decade –
bite me.

31

Claws

He used to stroke my hair
And say I was a lioness,
In a hatless summer
When all eyes would turn towards us.

Then he saw me wake up,
Tangled, greasy and stale with sweat,
One October morning,
Before the shampoo and hairbrush.

Now he has a new pet
And parades it before his friends.
It is tame and trusting.
Where could he have put the scissors?

32

CONFESSION BY NUMBERS

We were the perfect three.

He brushed and combed
his hair, then hers, I did mine;
what else could I do?

Three of us left hell that day
but only one of us wanted to
return. Only one of us smiled;
two of us disobeyed orders.

We were the perfect three;
perfectly showy, perfectly
perfect but all cracked and
bruised and broken. Two of us
knew, the higher the podium
and the taller the pedestal, the
deeper the pain, the grander
the lies. Three of us stood
there that day, but two of us
needed to be free. Sometimes,
to be free, someone has to die,
so one of us had to leave.

33

How much longer?

How much longer is this going to take? I'm too fed up for words. It's exactly the same every year; I swear he pays more attention to it than he does to me. This morning he spent hours grooming the thing, hoping it will win but it never has. That doesn't seem to put him off and his enthusiasm rarely wanes. Instead he invests good money, dressing it up and treating it to makeovers, while I'm resigned to living in the same coat I've worn for three years and can't remember the last time I enjoyed a basic shampoo and set. "It will pay off in the end," he reassures me. I simply reply: "If you say so, darling," refusing to engineer an argument because I know there is little point.

The ride home is a solemn one. I sit in the passenger seat saying nothing while he drives erratically, evidently cheesed off because for the first time in years, his dog wasn't even placed fourth or fifth. The highest award it's won is bronze, but this year it never came close; no certificate or rosette; not even a badge for taking part. The whole day has been a complete waste and when I get home there will be no time for relaxing because the house needs cleaning, the washing up from this morning was left undone and there is laundry and ironing to sort out. "There's always next year, I suppose," he says, trying to convince himself rather than me. I, on the other hand, say nothing; why? Because I have other things on my mind; housework and domestic drudgery mainly. But I'm also planning my evening in front of the television; The Generation Game, Dr Who and of course the new series of The Professionals starts tonight. That Lewis Collins - what a dish.

34

dog days out

It was a good job you couldn’t see the skin on her neck,
so bruised from the restraining collar,
he had clipped and pinned her to the table so roughly,
running the smooth back of the brush over her,
head to tail,
turning it over to tease out,
a mouth breather normally he would keep his lips tight,
his grip gentle yet firm,
the lingering smell of body odour clinging to his shirt,
collar, tie,
concentrating far too much on the ears
35

Oh What a Life

What a life,
Such a pampered pooch,
Well fed, Well groomed,
Want for nothing.
Or So they think,
Am I ungrateful to want more?
To tell you the truth
I'm bored to the core,
No play mates, no fun,
Just prize after prize
That I have won.
But I don't care,
I do it for them.
What do I get in return?
The occasional bone,
Or a collar with a gem.
I'd jack it all in tomorrow
If I had the chance.
To be free,
To run like other dogs,
Chase cats and roll on the grass.
But no all I can do is dream.
It's a hard life.
36

new wave

life’s getting in the way of that Indochine kick
New Wave today is so passé, fingers clipped ‘round bottles of possibly we shared a dream
believing in passing trains with promises of talking to tall strangers and being captured inside their breath like stage performers
thrashing at the newborn youth raging in the front row – reed arms a crossword of three across four down; take me take me
our world is where the news melts and eyes head bang, crisp as a flute

it’s true ideas can be not so safely forgotten
rolled over to discard the grit, making way for jaunts in spring and climbing dogs over cot walls and
put to bed, tied safely up, in the memories of the dead,

but I was once in that row, my body eagled up the sweat, sound drowned by tomorrow’s nonchalance

don’t let me go to sleep yet, Indochine cut and pasted on the cusp

37

Mr.Gilbert’s ‘Switcher Over’

Now I am happy
as love flows from his hands coaxing fur, absent minded Fondling.
Measure - Mull - Watching over my important Turds.
Sleeping all day.
No responsibility.
Unconditional love.
I had no idea.
Absolutely none.

Me? I'm very happy too.

Happy that I can talk.
Happy to not eat wet dog food.
Happy to not go for walks around the same park.
Happy to have hands. (To prepare salads, smoke, masturbate)

Mr.Gilbert's 'Switcher Over' worked.

We're both very, very happy.

Him?
He doesn't know.
We will never tell him. Ever.

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dear mother

it happened again, maman.

just the way it happened
with you -- that night, just before
dawn came without you.

without you.

he walked in late, maman, smelling
of her
and lager.
i wanted to touch him -- tell him I
forgave him -- tell him it was okay, maman.
because i am a woman.

these scars, maman. these bloodied
lines against my breast. . .they connect me
to you.

but we are buying a dog, today.

39

Shape of an Egg

I started wearing bell-bottoms,
So Lucy did too.

They keep us rooted to the earth,
you see, it's so windy these days.
The park tears itself to shreds in autumn.
You find bits of it around Manhattan
Caught in your hair,
Or stuck to your shoes.

The wind took my hat and
blew Charlie to Connecticut;
but we talk on the phone.

He says that over there, things
go the way they were intended.
People walk in parallel, turn corners at right angles;
and the weather is still, so still! There isn't the hint
Of a breeze in the air
to push great curves in your trajectory.

We are balanced, like eggs
upon a table top
Lucy and I; we both were free
We let them stroke our
Fragility

(But we'll be here in winter still
With bottom-heavy souls, we will.)

40

He Says

He says 'We' won first prize.
He says that's something worth celebrating.
He will celebrate with a cigar and a tumbler of whiskey, poured too fast to be measured in fingers or doubles.
He smacks his lips and deems all his efforts worthwhile.
He says put that pathetic mindless mutt out to howl at nothing for another endless night.
I hear you my darling, over all the pomp and sickening, thickening smoke.
You're not howling at nothing.
You're voicing everything.
And when he lulls to sleep and his prideful head lolls in the haze of smoke soaked whiskey...
...I'll find you my darling and scoop you into my arms.
We'll leave him, waking only to congratulate himself on his first prize once more as he plucks the gristle from his teeth of the worst steak he thinks he'd ever eaten.
Well rest tonight in a comfy bed and we'll relax and enjoy our winning streak.
We'll dine on the most succulent prize pieces I trimmed from his steak.
And we'll smack our lips and you'll nod off close by me.
And I'll lay there thinking of how clever we are.
While that useless mutt slobbers and snores in his armchair.
His prize in his hand.
And I'll lay looking out at the stars.
Stroking your soft little head as you sleep.
Away from his shouting and savage preening I'll keep you.
Your soul more human in the truest sense.
Than a man like that could ever be.
Read more >
41

TWINK

“Fuzzy” comes round Thursdays.
She does me first. Then I do her.
The dog is mine. I do him when she’s gone.
42

For Show

I mean, aren’t we all just paranoid entities comprised entirely of unruly hair, flaunting atrophic masks and preening like obsessive-compulsive narcissists?

Probably.

Provably.

One day the facial carapace will inevitably slip, you might feel it start to loosen, give way. The adhesive you’ve used simply wasn’t cut out for this kind of tenure. You feel an itch on the surface of your cheek. Don’t touch it! Someone might notice. Imagine how that might set off their anxious hyperhidrosis, and before long that’ll dissolve the glue that holds their face on too. And where will we be then? Anarchy, that’s where.

Watch from the corner of your eye. There’s a fissure widening between your cornea and your eyelid, with plenty eager to escape. It’s your choice; flee in panic, or remain there, paralysed, praying internally that it stays affixed.

Good, you’ve opted to stay. Not a choice really; your limbs wouldn’t obey even if you asked them politely.

Maybe it’s self-centred to think anyone has any time to be even remotely bothered with your appearance. All they can devote thought to is their own personal monomania, to which you are utterly irrelevant.

Perhaps.

Stay calm, force your heart rate to drop with sheer domineering willpower. Keep the facade in place with your mind, if you can.

Just long enough for them to complete this damn ritual.

43

For the Sake of a Dog

the barking tune of a dog
magnetic pair of

        [two]species:

simpering man and a pensive woman.
their feet stagnant, standing
stiff like the rock of Gibraltar
there’s a waiver raised for them
funded by the central
bank of (L)ove, recommended
by his Lordship: Canis lupus familiaris.

in thanksgiving,

          are about to
    enter into

this new kingdom
       of dogs.

44

Just one more brush, he kept whispering.

Dearest Clementine,

     I’ve been meaning to write to you for so long. Since Albert’s sudden death, time has become anarchic, devilishly unpredictable. There are days that are painfully endless, others that tumble like dominos. I miss Albert very, very much. We had been together for nearly 40 years.

      Thanks for coming to the funeral, and thanks for your understanding about that hideous photo; you know me, Albert and The Dog.

      Albert’s sister, your Aunt, insisted on putting that photo on Albert's coffin. I was furious. Did you hear her at the funeral? “Albert loved Gaylord”, she told everyone. “Gaylord was Albert’s pride and joy”; “Albert lived for Gaylord “. I could have slapped her, kicked her broad, horsey bottom right out of the church.

      Darling Clementine, you have to understand. When I met Albert, I battled with him daily, so that The Dog didn’t eat with us at every meal, sleep in our bed. He would preen The Dog obsessively. Just one more brush dear, he would whisper, just one more brush. I began to understand his parents had given him pets instead of love. The Dog was Albert’s mother-lover-father all rolled into one. The Dog! The Dog!

      We almost broke off our engagement for The Dog. That photo was taken the day of the Dog Row. We’d been at Crufts with The Dog. A man had wanted to take our portrait. I refused. Albert said, “Yes”. I remember my bewilderment; Albert lost in love.

Read more >

45

Well Suited

We met through a dating agency Fredrick and me. Filled in all the compatibility forms and they matched us up, our scores perfectly in tune. We go together like lock and key.

We both like to walk, like a bit of ‘Am Dram’, where he plays second lead usually and I am the prompter. Our life is busy but uncomplicated. The dog was spontaneous, a Christmas gift to ourselves, we saw her picture in the paper, and we both knew that was what we needed.

We started entering shows as soon as we had thought of a name for her. Frederick likes the grooming and the actual showing and I like doing the lists and campaign diary.

I think it’s best if we condition, colour and set our hair three days before a show, Phoebe Alyssa Lady Daphne has hers done the night before. You have to be very careful about static and it goes without saying that split ends are a definite no-no.

We've had a lot of success. We got a little giddy with it all. At Easter we bought a display cabinet for the rosettes and trophies. Dear Daphne is quite a star and it came as no surprise that certain members of the family began to get a bit jealous of her.

Fredrick and I don't like to blow our own trumpets and we do sing from the same hymn sheet on this one. We do our duty visits to all the aunts and uncles, aged parents, the cousins and family friends from way back. We don't do this because we haven't children; we do it because it is right for us but since Daphne came along we have been doing it a little less frequently. This has not gone unnoticed.

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46

Barkin!

I 'ate this.
The standing around,
The non-stop preening.
My teeth checked,
Breath smelled.
My paws checked,
Even my arse checked.
Check check check.
Yes go ahead and check your bleedin' boxes.
Don't matter anyway - Milton's goin' to win the show.
Great Dane that he is.
Then there's Trixy Wixy Woo or Shoo or whatever her name is,
Her name's on everyone's lips - "Have you seen the miniature schnauzer crossed with a spaniel?
Astounding!"
First of her kind, or so I 'eard.
Course the attention's gone to her 'ead:
Loves herself she does, struttin' around like the Queen of Sheba,
That bleeding fuschia bow in her hair.
Matching the ribbon in her owner's hair.
All very matchy matchy.
And as for Mr. and Mrs. Miserable here: they've got everything ridin'on me winnin'.
I 'eard 'em talkin' in the kitchen back in December, bleedin' strategising,
Mortgaging the 'ouse,
Creatin' a rumour,
Gettin' the bookies all excited but not too excited, nudge, nudge, wink wink.
Read more >
47

Dog Parts

In all the mornings gone,
I stood behind and watched

Call it timorous if you want,
Still breathless over you

When the gloom is at a laze,
Think of that unusual age;

The Halcyon Phase of Conundrum,
(When Riddle was met by Grace)

Call it timorous if you want,
Still breathless over you

48

We Learn by Watching

I.
Be gentle. Stay calm. That's the what I learnt by watching them
watching me, as if I was an episode in a long saga.
I always had that face for the public.
A mixture of repair, disdain to my very eyes.

II.
When he brought Cindy home, I felt my face tighten
a dancer's bun, I had seen him fail responsibly before.
When Cindy came home, he swore to watch her,
tend for her needs: wash the hair gently like it was his own.
Walk her daily. Feed her and be company. Be a world in one body.
He made manly promises that were womanly executed.
He made the same promises before, I was the main witness-
I continued to stir the daily soups in silence. I watched them, a world of their own.
I never understood Cindy's secret, his blossoming
I stirred, silence.

III.
It was the dog show, I still recall the October chill
the chill that wrapped me in the light brown jacket
before I stepped out into the fog, he said
he hated my jacket and the way I wore my hair-
I only said he looked childish in square jackets.
A jacket insult for another, another passing note under a long margin of thoughts I complied by watching him move, inside and outside my life.
Read more >

49

Second Place

On a pedestal. That's where he put me. Everything about my appearance his choice. He takes such care over the detail, that everything must match, that everything must be... just so.

He uses the word 'care'. He uses the word 'love'. He uses the word 'us'.

Groomed, displayed and held on a leash. That's where I am.

That's where Lady is too.

I mean, what kind of name is that for a boy dog? Larry jokes it's short for Lady Killer or, sometimes, it's really Laddie, but "Hey, Linda, you know what happens to pet names, right?" Whatever you planned, however much you planned it one way, things turn out different. Another way.

Lady's a good dog. But I look at him and I don't see a dog who wants to get dragged round the country to shows. I don't see a dog who wants to be shampooed and chained in ribbons. Lady's a dog, and no dog really wants that. He wants to be free and he wants friendship and love, and he thinks he's getting friendship and love from Larry by trading his freedom. But that's not what Larry's giving him. There's no dignity. You can see it in Lady's eyes, see that he knows this. And he can see it in my eyes.

I'm not a dog person, but I do this because it's part of Larry's way, his world. And that's the way it's always been.

Read more >

50

Escape

It’s allright, Petal. Don’t be scared. I know this is confusing. It’d be confounding for anyone let alone you, a dog. But you sense it, don’t you? You know.
Daddy doesn’t notice, does he precious.
Look at him preening and grooming you to distraction. You look ridiculous. And so sad, you look so very very sad.
But maybe that’s my fault.
He used to do the same to me, before you came. That’s why I’m stuck with this stupid hair and this silly posh lady suit. I’d give anything to be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but c’est la vie. Or it was.
He doesn’t even notice me here, does he precious?
But it’s okay. I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve been practicing. Going over it in my head again and again.
We’ll wait until dark. When everyone’s asleep. It won’t take too much out of me to undo the latch. I’ve done it a few times already. When he wasn’t looking.
I’ve got the strength now. It took a long while to build it up. Had to smash a few cups and bang a few doors, but I think I’ve got it now.
We’ll have to take the back alleys. Keep to the shadows. We can’t have anyone noticing you. It would raise questions, wouldn’t it precious? And no running off. I can’t help you if you run off. They’ll take you straight back to him.
I know you’re scared darling. But trust me. I know Daddy loves you, and you love him. But what he’s doing, it isn’t right. You are not me.
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