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The Sadness of a Dog

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Somehow pesters the sadness of
                              a dog—that ungiven guardedness
                              at first report of day
               in a slyly chosen alley;
not the cat hidden in the bougainvillaea blossom,
not the bull barefaced into the lissome
 
highway, it’s a madness
                              less to do with mordant Englishness
                              in a glum phototropic
               teat, more a perky realpolitik
in over-familiar mottled skin. That hoarse howl
at the garden’s shrub-ridden edge, that shawl
 
a woman knits, waiting for a man
                              who’s not her man—not a man at all—then
                              crouching by the bedpost
               mewling.
 
                                              *
 
                              When to be tame is at most
a disavowal in proxy to the master’s unacknowledged
fear: knowing fear as part of privilege,
 
knowing privilege a state
                              infeasible, the amenable innate
                              animal to whom
               we assign the affectionate name
—Bango, Napoleon, Spot—bounding resolutely
into the black-red greenness of the middle sea—
 
 
believes itself to be human
                              in dogly garb, a non-veg incarnation
                              of mortal virtue, no less
               than a wife, child, comrade in armless
charms. We nurture this notion, lure it to the rug.
 
                                              *
 
So even if it steal to the street trailing a fog-
 
-dust deliberate, choosing mange
                              over matter to be free—deranged,
                              sheltering in a truck’s
               dappled shade, but dreading the hunger-dusk
or charity at noon—if it claim its independence
among curs, dodging some dog-chief, teeth clenched,
 
lurking in building societies—
                              it still will count the hand that carries
                              the house in a fist,
               or follow, for a glance, a humanist.
 
Paused between doorstep and forest, both gone;
kept in equilibrium, the sadness of a dog.
 

Vivek Narayanan, "The Sadness of a Dog" from Universal Beach.  Copyright © 2011 by Vivek Narayanan.  Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Universal Beach (ingirumimusnocte, 2011)
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The Sadness of a Dog

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  • Vivek Narayanan was born in India and raised in Zambia. He earned an MA in cultural anthropology from Stanford University, and an MFA in creative writing from Boston University.  He was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (2013-14) and a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library (2015-16) while working on a book of poems about the ancient Indian epic poem Ramayana.
    Narayanan has taught history, anthropology and creative writing in many places, including the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi.  His books of poems include Universal Beach (Harbour Line Press, 2006/In Girum Books, 2011) and Life and Times of Mr S (HarperCollins India, 2012). A full-length collection of his poems in Swedish translation was published in 2015 by the Stockholm-based Wahlström & Widstrand. He is co-editor of Almost Island, a nine-year old India-based journal, literary organization, and publisher. His essays,...

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