Poem: Alfie – a dog

My wife had a Jack Russell for five years until this summer. We miss him, though he was a stroppy little beggar (and perhaps because he was).

Alfie – a dog
November 2013

We didn’t let him rule us,
or not completely.

He was a dog of
and hedge.

And of smell and bone and stick.

The high point of his life?
Maybe shaking the life from a rabbit,
neatly, quickly, without fuss, and not always completely.
I would come along,
more breathless than he,
and stamp the coney into stillness,
whilst Alfie was off,
nose down, tail up,
following scents chaotically,
and stoically.

Sometimes a deer would do,
spotted so far away
it would hardly bother to outpace
such hopeless, short-legged optimism.

He liked women more than men,
and blondes more than brunettes;
water more than food;
salmon more than chicken;
and either more than any other food;
and got along with most dogs
unless they were fluffy and flappy or Boxers.

He loved Valerie like a child,
like a lover or an acolyte,
or a jealous God.

The pain of her absence might lessen over days
but her key in the lock could always drive him wild with joy.

He put up with me
and liked our walks and was not afraid
to be glad of my protection
when some burly Doberman or saxon German Shepherd,
loomed like a Lancaster to his Lysander,
or battleship to his destroyer,
and caused him to take a wide berth
with what he may have hoped was insouciance
and looked like circumspection –
tail at half-mast,
and sideways glances.

I was really quite pleased to be of use
then at least.

And sometimes,
waiting for Valerie,
or something else worthwhile,
he’d join me on the bed,
and even let me massage his back.

He was clean;
his patches of white, chestnut, and black
quickly returned to order,
however glooped they’d been with mud or worse.

And now he’s dead,
because we had him killed,
and I carried him to the vet.

Even grown-up  he was like a kid
on some estate,
touchy, frantic,
his knife sudden in his hand,
against friend or foe,
guarding some zone,
some sense of self, some privacy,
some dignity,
against some threat he had no time to identify or calibrate.

I knew another Jack,
a furrier not a terrier,
though both knew and loved their rabbit skins.
The human one also thrilled me
by having so thin a membrane
over his scuffed, fine veneer.

He, too, disdained to play his cards right.
And just like our small dog
had no idea of diplomacy or the buttering of right sides.

Both as suddenly as striking out,
recoiled from their viciousness and,
quite abashed,
wagged their tails,
wiping their misdemeanour from their quick minds.

A moment’s respite,
and they repacked the erratic charge
of neuron, hormone and venom.

Alfie bit me once too often,
frightened too many kids,
proved himself unknowable

He was only a dog
but at least he was never a pet
and every day I miss his coat, his eye,
his enthusiasm,
his pleasure in a roasting tin,
and his sitting on the lawn
sniffing the night summer air,
like a mystic and a connoisseur –
and his patience as humans did what humans do,
which must have seemed interminable
to this Jack Russell amongst Jack Russells.

And of the three of us
Valerie has it worst.

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Publication date

21 November 2013


RDN's poems