The Sadness of a Dog

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
                              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)
More Poems by Vivek Narayanan