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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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