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 www.RoddWhelpley.com.