They call him Mad Dog. I don’t know his real name.
Not the kind of man to tell you. He’s frequent, and any purchase
is made in coppers. Funny, he’s got the reputation of a brute,
titled after his grim stories. How he throttled a dog to near death,
escaped the police numerous times – by any means. I never want
to know what he did to that father who swore at his kid.
You know, I like him. Others come, throw the cash onto the counter
like it’s food for an animal, and watch me count it up. Pay the change.
Mad Dog leans forward, places his fingers onto the coins
and counts in tens with me, making sure he has it all,
like he’s soothing his child to sleep.
His gravel voice. Counting sheep.
At some point, we think we’ve experienced it all.
The generosity. The greed. The loss. The love.
And then we pick up a book, cradling the broken spine,
careful of faded pages, nursing the tattered front,
and it’s only then
do we discover
how much of being we have yet to encounter.
Together, they sit. A family of four. The proud parents,
both nursing wine. His beard trimmed. Her hair curled.
They nod, and nod, and nod, as opposite, the son, eldest,
broad shouldered, tells of the job he’s found abroad,
teaching. He says this, he says that, the parents agree,
and the daughter, slightly slumped, mortar board
upturned on the table, says nothing, as if she expected
to arrive at some train station and found there’s no
platform to meet. Another set of tracks runs by,
stretching off, and the next train is delayed,
and her gown is pinched in the sliding doors,
with pigeons pecking the crumbs at her feet.
I knocked on the door of my old house.
My knuckles rapped the green paint.
She opens up, I explain, she lets me in,
and everything was different. There’s no
reference to the photographs I have.
The stove was bigger, the countertop a hard
stone, the living room smaller, cluttered,
the garden overgrown and dense.
Nothing stayed from where it once was.
I expected a flurry of nostalgia, a rush
of memory firing the synapses, to pick
apart the house and know where things
happened. To account for the scar on my leg,
to tick off where I fell down the stairs,
hit my head, and left a dent in the banister.
None of it was there. Our names laddering
the door frame in pencil rungs were all buried beneath
a stroke of beige paint. The linoleum, clean and shiny,
had no impression of floorboard woodgrain
or that brown spiral I thought looked like a dog.
Suddenly, I wasn’t in the house.
This was a boat, one I had to leave.
All ten of my toes peered over the edge
of the gangplank with no land to meet.
Just a dark sea below,
She asks which soup I’d like.
Decisions have been made faster.
When to ask her on a date,
when to plant a kiss,
when to ask if she’d like to live
in a flat together, to share a sofa,
a television, a bed every night.
Each thought required no thinking.
It’s the way she reads them.
The soft syllables,
a hunger in her voice.
I can’t decide.
Oxtail. Cream of mushroom.
Sometimes, I have a thought, or perhaps,
a thought has me, and it bores down to bone,
runs through the length of marrow.
This particular idea, one of truffle rarity, like hearing
a lone wolf howl, inappropriately called
when I planned to sit and read for lunch.
I had a few books of poetry, all crisp and clean,
spread across my lap, ready for digest
(even the lamppost leant in curiosity)
but this thing called and begged for company,
to be penned when potent, to be grasped by the scruff.
Keats. Auden. Plath. I’m sorry. I can’t sit and read.
The hounds are calling me to write.