Little Dog at the End of the Rainbow

 

That’s enough, little dog.
Don’t push, little dog.
Stop pushing me where I don’t want to go:
into this tiny room where John Keats died.
A month ago I had no plans to be in Rome,
but here I am, and there you are,
nipping my heels with your Chihuahua teeth,
strafing my ankles with your tiny sharp claws.
Looks like another summer of bloody feet.
All the Band-Aids at Walgreens can’t cover my scars.

I wanted to lounge outside in the sunshine,
drink a cool vino bianco in some outdoor enoteca,
the light through the spring-green leaves flickering gold in my glass.
Instead, you wound your invisible little body around my sandals
and pushed me past the Piazza di Spagna,
past the happy dancing waters of the fontana della barcaccia,
past the fat pots of fuschia azaleas glinting amid the sea of tourists,
and up three flights of narrow stairs into this dark, small,
death room.
But why am I surprised?
You’ve done this to me my whole life.
Forty-four years ago I was making good money as a secretary when you,
tiny Cerberus, pushed me into poetry.
Did you know the Italian word “stanza” means “room”?
Thanks to you, I wrote myself into a tight stanza.
Like Keats, who spent his final days staring out this window,
I couldn’t leave.
Yes, he had tuberculosis, but he also had poetry.
And, I suspect, his own little animal who stopped him from becoming a doctor
and curing his own T.B.
Yes, I know he didn’t want to be a doctor.
And no, I didn’t like being a secretary.
I hated being a secretary.
And, yes, I do love poetry, but you never seem to understand
that with my working class background
I need money, not poetry.

How long do you want me to keep staring at the deathbed?
There are three people in this tiny room now.
It’s really close in here.
It smells like what everybody ate for lunch —
Italian food.
Maybe you’ll understand if I speak Italian:
basta, poco cane,
non spingere, poco cane,
va fanculo, mio cagnolino.
What is your name, anyway?
I used to know, but I forgot.
I’d like to know what Keats called his version of you —
“Poetry-Will-Be-The-Death-Of-Me”?
In a poem I wished I’d written,
Delmore Schwartz called his little friend
“The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me.”
And, also, in the same poem:

               crazy factotum
               swollen shadow
               stupid clown
               central ton of every place

That’s damn accurate.
I bet you’re all in some kind of club.
Oh, I should have thrown a bucket of water over you long ago.
Drowned you like mean people drown kittens.
Little dog, were you “il miglior fabbro”?
I have a feeling you spent a lot of time with Ezra Pound.

I can’t see you anymore, Fido, but I know you’re here.
And I know if I could see you, I would see you
jump right up on Keats’ mattress —
this expensive green and white striped silk mattress
that Keats certainly did not die on —
and lick my face.
Right now you are probably licking his ghost-face.
That might be nice for him, actually.
Because his friend Severn wrote that the poet would sometimes
“weep when he awoke and found himself still living.”
You know I’ve done that.
You know because you were there
pushing,
always pushing me into the most distressing events.
You pushed me into that record store when I was fifteen,
made me fall in love with the owner who was eleven years older than me.
Yes, he was a great first boyfriend
despite the statutory rape aspect.
But then three years later he died, and I tried to kill myself
by getting so drunk behind the Shedd Aquarium
I wouldn’t notice I was walking into Lake Michigan.
But I wasn’t drunk enough to miss you peeing on the flowers.
I was so drunk I saw two of you.
One Chihuahua peeing is hilarious,
but twin Chihuahuas?
Ridiculous!
I almost died laughing.
Then the two of you said, “Now go home and write a poem.”
You totally ruined the mood.
To spite you, I never wrote that poem.

You also pushed me into dumping that nice guy who had a job selling insurance,
a house in the suburbs and a car,
for that idiot who wrote those long, incomprehensible novels
and lived in one narrow room with sheets tacked over the windows,
a sleeping bag on his mossy, stained mattress,
and manuscript pages carpeting the floor.
The place smelled like dirty soup.
The El roared by outside.
He looked like he’d just robbed a liquor store,
but he was actually faking being poor.
You told me it would be romantic.
You said I would learn things.
So I traveled with him for a year.
It was the worst year of my life.
You saw me that night on the Boulevard Raspail
making my way toward the sandwich grec place by Notre-Dame
in the snow and sleet
with no umbrella
and no winter coat
looking into windows at people eating Christmas dinners in bright, warm kitchens.
The phrase “exiled from comfort” came to mind.
Again you said, “Now go home and write a poem.”
Again, to spite you, I did not.
You said the same thing three months later
as we watched the sun coming up over the Himalayas.
At least that made sense.
And you said it again the night I slit my wrist.
I spent five hours alone in the emergency room.
Little dog, you walked me home.

It’s been years since I could see you.
But I remember what you looked like.
You showed up one spring morning in my front yard
under the big evergreen planted by my grandfather
when he first came over from Poland.
I was on my way to Kindergarten with my mother,
and I saw you half-hidden in the shadow, next to the wooden bowl
that Grandma always filled with little sticks and leaves
and dry, blood-red buds
and placed under the evergreen whenever it rained.
The drops falling from the needles would moisten the concoction,
and she’d mix it with the tibia of a pig and give it to me when I got sick.
When I let go of my mother’s hand
and scrambled under the tree to pet you,
I saw a rainbow arcing over the wooden bowl.
When I asked my grandmother about it, she said,
“That’s little dog at end of rainbow.
Go write poem.”
So I went and wrote poem.
I called it, “My Grandmother Told Me To Write a Poem.”
It wasn’t very good.
I threw it away.
But you fished it out of the garbage, hid it somewhere,
then brought it back twenty years later covered in slobber,
and made me submit it to a magazine.
It got published.
I got paid ten dollars.
Then it appeared in an anthology.
I got fifty dollars.
Then I got asked to do a reading.
You were so proud of me.
I guess I’ve never thanked you properly.

Is that why I can’t see you anymore?
Is it because I forgot your name?
Should give you a new name?
I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl,
but I suspect a boy, because Aunt Jagwiga once told me,
“I know God’s a man; a woman wouldn’t let this shit go on for so long.”
I’m sorry.
I know you have your reasons for letting shit go on for so long.
You’ve always been smarter than me.
And I’m sorry I swore at you in Italian.
I should’ve said Grazie, mio cagnolino, per la poesia.
I will go home and write a poem.
I’ll call it, “Little Dog at the End of the Rainbow.”
And that’s what I’ll call you.
That’s what I used to call you.
I remember now.

 

Contributor

Sharon Mesmer

Sharon Mesmer's most recent poetry collection is Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place (Bloof Books, 2015).

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