w h y d o g s i n g e s t a n y t h i n g w h i l e t h e h u m a n m o u t h r e m a i n s s o s e n t i m e n t a l
T I M O T H Y B R A D F O R D
Things I've seen dogs eat: dog food, squirrels, cats, grass,
side of a 1972 GMC truck, Heart of Understanding by
Thich Nhat Hahn, Scooby snacks, dirt, fast food (including
most of bag), horse shit, cow shit, human shit,
other dogs, a bloated human corpse on the banks
of the river Ganges.
Twelve thousand years ago, in a site near Jerusalem, a man
was laid in a grave, right hand cradling a dog.
Who has not at least slept in the same room
as those with the most omnivorous mouths?
My older son teaches my younger son to pray—
These are your eyes and these are your arms
and these are your ears and these are your legs.
Part of a prayer that was said much earlier—
Wolf, don't eat my eyes and Wolf, don't eat my arms,
then Dog, don't eat my legs and Dog, don't eat my nose.
Part of a prayer to be said much later—
Sir, don't torch my ear, God, don't eat my eyes,
Work, don't eat my arms, Lady, not my legs.
I, being Buddhist, don't believe in prayer
to save one's skin, despite the shape I'm in—
eaten by my work clothes, eaten by my school clothes,
eaten by the horses who live in the yard,
eaten by the Maenads, eaten by my TV,
eaten by my own two sons who learn to pray.
And the gods in the yard and the woman at school
and the books on the shelf and the kitchen knife, too.
Eaten, eaten, eaten, eaten, eaten, eaten, eaten up.
Rimpoche, I warn you seriously. I have some medical knowledge;
your disciple may be driven to madness by the terror
he experiences. He really appeared to feel himself being
No doubt he is, but he does not understand
that he himself is the eater.
You be the dog and I'll be the catcher.
No, I'll be the catcher and you be the dog.
The dog. Remember, the catcher always gets it
in the end.
The dog always gets it in the end.
Well, the catcher first . . .
And the dog in the end. Definitely the dog.
Definitely in the end.
But first a surprise, a growl, bared teeth,
a lunge to scratch or bite!
So you will be the dog.
Maybe the dog and maybe the wolf. You
won't know till you're in my teeth.
Not a chance. I'm too careful.
The chase makes one careless.
No way, I'm too aware.
The fur makes one awareless.
Careless, awareless, the dog always gets it
in the end.
Not till the very final, very last, very breath,
on the leash and wearing muzzle very last end.
Do we have such horrors inside our body?
Nothing was horrible about the beginning: my pack
flowed around me like dancers at a party,
the sun lulled in the trees, the dry
heat of the day not yet on. My bow was taut,
my step, light, as if all those years of hunting
either fell from me or buoyed me—I was
other than myself. Instinct led me
up an unknown slope to a miraculous grove
radiating like the sun itself. The moist sounds
of panting and licking died down as my pack
fell in around me. We stepped nearly in time,
breathed the same rhythm. And from the edge
of the grove, in water like silver—what to say
about what I saw because you know the story,
know her body pulsed perfect on my vision
like a white heat mirage. What is not spoken of,
and seldom imagined, is the more perfect vision
I had that last day. Unmuddied by self-consciousness,
I, now another, hairier, swifter animal, watched closely,
meditatively, as my own sharp-toothed hounds flayed
the skin from my muscles, bared the miracle of fasciae
and nerve from inside my body with their generous,
ungentle mouths, and I saw for the first time,
and for the last, the network of optimism I was.