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Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—"Stardust,"
"Naima," "The Trout," "My Rosary," "Perdido."
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known to only a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing,
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
I sing her name and words of love
andante, con brio, vivace, adagio.
Sometimes she is so moved she turns
to place a paw across her snout,
closes her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
The true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart,
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together or
apart, beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
ballads of long nights lifting
to starlight, songs of bones, turds,
conquests, hunts, smells, rankings,
things settled long before our birth.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

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  • Poet Paul Zimmer was born in Canton, Ohio, and served the United States Army as a journalist before earning his BA from Kent State University in 1968. He is the author of 12 books of poetry, including Family Reunion (1983), which won an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Zimmer is also one of the founders of the Pitt Poetry Series and has served as the director of university presses in Georgia, Iowa, and Pittsburg. Zimmer’s poetry engages everyday life, using free-verse lines and unadorned diction to highlight the drama and wit of ordinary situations. Poet William Stafford, who selected Zimmer’s collection The Great Bird of Love (1989) for the National Poetry Series, described the book as “quirky, full of surprise, variety, [and] humor,” noting that Zimmer’s “language is alive with verbal adventure.” 
    Zimmer has received various awards and honors...

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