Wet Dog

Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana

The day was dark. The air smelled like wet dog.
Owls left bits of mice bone, cracked, in the overnight
damp. My beagle-hound had blue Arkansas
ticking on her tail, red on all four
paws, from her daddy’s daddy,
all her bloodlines long, all the way up the Mississippi.

Yes, it was Indiana. As was October.
As was all 1260 acres
of Pokagon State Park. Yellow birch.
Red maple. Blue beech. Skunk cabbage
in a sassafras hollow. My beagle caught the scent
of something dark in the kame. Hell’s Point. A goose
must have walked across my grave. Or was it
a muskrat burrowing into the bank
of a kettle lake?

And that was it. Eyes rolled back
in her head, her excited yelps and snorts
like a vacuum sucking a bog.
This is what it means to be opiated
with scent. To pull and yip and howl.
To give oneself up, wholly, to the earth,
to the scent and turn of worm castings,
the milky manure of last night’s moon.

Muskrat fur. Rat tail guiding their swim.
Mounds of dirt undigging themselves
on the steep banks. Part of my heart—
half in, half out, of this world. Until brought to bay.
To take to the lake like muskrats
and live off cattails and crayfish.
Only to offer oneself up to coyotes and fox
and the silky fur the wind seems to moan.
How we are all sinking into the soggy bog,
allowing the shroud of last night’s rain
and last month’s sediment to seep in.

And what of the night? What does the owl
cast off in its sweep and screech? What remnants
of its kill? Or the air it swifts in pursuit
of its kill? My skin rising, rinsing, in goose flesh?

We all leave behind something we have died?

The hound part of my heart loves the drag scent
across leaves. Tells me possum piss. Says rabbit-dash
in moonlight. Skunk-waddle
through switchgrass, through maidenhair
ferns. Shows me the blanch stench
of regret. The many ripples of my life,
just out of reach, in a kettle lake
where a family of muskrats compound the mound.

My dog gives her hound-self up wholly
to the earth-churn her long ears turn,
to what she must surely wish was a mud-bath.
Dark places. Scent-print of all
that has been. Slosh of temporary ponds
in moon-pooled leaves. And cold autumn hands
of a wind-musted lake.

The dark ache. The watery strut of the hunt.

George Kalamaras, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series (2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.   http://www.wabashwatershed.com/


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