Four weeks at Yaddo, artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, NY. Bliss. I haven’t written many prose poems, but this one (thinking 'form is an extension of content') seemed to demand the form it takes. And, true story.
ALFA THE DOG
It isn’t enough that when I go off for three weeks to an
artists’ colony and phone home, the first thing my wife
tells me is there’s a new addition to the family, a seven-
month-old poodle named Alfa and that Alfa has papers,
an honest-to-God pedigree that includes not only aristo-
cratic ancestors, but recent appearances in “The New York
Review of Books” and a novel published by Houghton-
Mifflin. And when I am somewhat less than ecstatic,
my wife asks me to at least say a few words to the new
addition, and puts on Alfa the dog. “Speak, Alfa, speak,”
I hear her say. And Alfa who is, by all accounts, loyal
and obedient, a noted storyteller, intelligent and amusing
as Oscar Wilde, refuses to speak, to bark, or make some
witty remark like, “What’s the weather like in Saratoga?”
All I hear is Alfa’s low doggy breathing and the tinkle
of the elegant silver bell on her collar.
My wife comes back on and says, “I have an idea. You
bark into the phone. Alfa will answer back.”
Well, it’s only costing a dollar ninety-five a minute and
good-natured soul that I am, devoted to my wife, guilty
at running off for three weeks, I put myself into it, throw
back my head and howl, barking, yowling, yipping like a
real dog—a dog without papers, a dog with fleas, a dog
like one of those mutts I knew growing up in Chicago,
and this happening, of course, on the public pay phone
at Yaddo, the “artists’ heaven,” what the New York Times
calls the Harvard of Artists’ Colonies.
Looking up, sure enough, I see one of America’s more
distinguished composers with his mouth open, his pipe
falling to the floor, waiting in line, no doubt, to speak
to his wife and children and his cats and dogs.
“Well, darling,” I say, “we’ve been talking for twenty-
five minutes. This is going to cost a fortune.”
At that moment, Alfa decides she wants to make her
presence known to all concerned, and she begins barking
into the phone, answering me in kind, responding yip
for yip, and yap for yap, lest there be any doubt in
anyone’s mind as to who it is I have been speaking—
me to Alfa the dog, Alfa the dog to me.
Reprinted from Four Incarnations (Coffee House Press) and The Collected Poems (Black Moss Press), 1991, 2004, copyright (c) Robert Sward.
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...