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Three poems by Rodd Whelpley

A house 

                   is a thing you leave empty

       most of the day, except the dog

       who spits liquid on the bamboo floor,

       upset the moment you depart, licks it up

       then dozes everywhere but on his bed.

       You don’t know how you know this

       as you stand beside your briefcase at the door,

       keys pocketed, patting his downy head

       as he huff huff huffs what you receive

       as a plea for you to stay – see once yourself 

       how dust settles, or mid-morning light reflects 

       on that painting. We always come home 

       you tell him, and wonder if he, too, 

       is thinking of his young companion

       who used to return sooner than the old humans,

       his car engine clatter-banging and his bass boost

       shivering the window panes to wake

       the dog, signal an after-school reunion,

       the musk of the boy’s frowzy beard and breath 

       when their foreheads pressed together, 

       the dog’s name cooed into the canine’s scratchy ear, 

       singing a sort of hymn about walking, treats,

       a belly rub – and for his snout – some kisses. 

       The vet said dogs don’t perceive what’s a short time 

       or a long one. A brief eternity, perhaps, is something

       to believe in. Your hand twists the knob. Be good,

       you say to the dog and to the air.              Be good.




Another Elegy for the Arctic

Now, I’m unsure who either of us needs. 

              Debits nearly never match the credits, 

                            Not that we don’t care, just that we don’t cope. 

In the way, for example that Greenpeace 

            puts a wary, lone composer  

                           and a Steinway on a barge stippled white


with icebergian points, floats him, while he plays 

           bare-handed past a Norwegian glacier,

                           which calves its island shards into the sea –


raucous ocean-quakes reverberating

          the bass strings, as if, with all his might,

                          he’s riding that sustaining pedal,


ignorant how errors divisible

         by nine are transpositions, or how

                          a decimal slips easily on ice.


Yes, I want the arctic saved, and babies,

         and clover for the bumble bees, even 

                           if I don’t know why. I also want 


a perfect epithet for you, a poem,

         an assassin of time, freedom from your name,

                          which, when I say it, draws to me


too much of your attention. I want  

         to call you by those attributes

                          only I’ve assigned, a clear, plain song


to semaphore the passing ships, 

         wave at them all the syncopated capabilities 

                          wrapped in words that stand for you. 




The Giraffe is a Friendly Animal 

I have this on the highest authority –  

my twin brother when we were five

at a visit to the Cleveland Zoo. And cows


pinch grandpa’s chew-tobacc, but never

spit it out. Birds sometimes fall in love

with jumbo jets – always a disaster. Circus 


peanuts we toss to the man-made island

replicate the diet of colobus monkeys taken

from the wild. The elephant never forgets 


our names and what we wore last year. 

In the ape house, you can feed a machine

two quarters, and a blue gorilla will pop out.


In the hot car home, its plastic face will melt,

but Dad will not complain about the money.

And mom won’t cry today. When they think


we are asleep, they’ll say, Five years. How can it be 

five years? Human grownups think that speed

is magic. That five years old doesn’t last forever.

Rodd Whelpley manages an electric efficiency program for 32 cities across Illinois and lives near Springfield. His poems have appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Shore, 2River View, Star 82 Review, Kissing Dynamite, Barren, and other journals. He is the author of the chapbooks Catch as Kitsch Can(2018) and The Last Bridge is Home (coming in 2021). Find him at

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