Now there’s a complication. The earlier poems are more specifically and more conventionally 'about' animals. Uncle Dog; Dodo; Emu... The next five or so are about my father and stepmother’s (rare breed) Catahoula Leopard Dog, the state dog, I’m told, of Louisiana. 'Very intelligent, independent, territorial. Not for the casual pet owner. A protective, yet dominating canine.'
So, now we’re into narrative. How does this material, i.e., Leopard Dog; The Mystery of the Mouth; The Holiness in Sex; Lenore Gets on Top, etc., fit in with what comes before? It’s an all-animal chapbook but, in this case, it’s one particular beast, the aggressive Mr. Leopard Dog coming onto the scene following my father's heart attack, Leopard Dog interacting with humans, Leopard dog as part of a domestic drama. And, be warned, some of what follows is explicit.
LENORE AND THE LEOPARD DOG
Father’s heart attacks him.
1. Catahoula Leopard Dog
Lenore K. appears at our door.
Father greets her. He wears
a silk bathrobe,
big horn-rimmed glasses
and his eyes bob up and down;
“I’m feeling better…”
You better be better.
Lenore shakes out her shoulder-length,
Poppa’s eyes widen. Heart attack or no heart attack,
he’s ready. Already he’s ready.
LOOK, ALREADY HE’S READY, says Leopard Dog,
racing room to room, one brown eye,
one blue eye, sizing me up.
LIKE IT OR NOT, SONNY, WE’RE HERE TO STAY.
Oh, why, hello there, Sonny.
I’m Daddy’s new friend.
And that, that meshugge
is a Catahoula Leopard Dog… see the spots?
And smart. He understands everything.
“A handsome wife develops the mind of man,” Father says.
“No, please, dad,” I whisper, “I don’t want her,
I don’t want another mother.”
He cups my face
in his hand.
“Goddammit, I’ve told you, it’s not good
for a man to be alone. And you need a mother.”
Leopard dog wags his tail. WOOF, WOOF. Stands
on his hind legs, paws on my shoulders.
WE’RE MOVING IN, FARSHTEHST?
Springs across the room, switches on
I Love Lucy.
Lenore sets the table.
What a dog! He just loves television. Mmm…
that Ricky Ricardo, look at those yummy
Shh, says Father.
You told me yourself, God is right there
in the pleasure. O, you’re good, doctor,
you’re good, she whispers.
2. The Mystery of the Mouth
Later that night
“Your breasts are like twins, young roes
among the lilies.”
Leopard Dog and I listen at the door.
What are you talking about, honey?
AH, HERE COME THE BIRDS AND BEES, says Dog.
“It’s in the Bible. A woman’s breasts
are the Ten Commandments, the two tablets
of God’s law. One for what God allows,
one for what He doesn’t.”
Talk sense. You’re a doctor, she laughs.
I peek through the keyhole.
Father’s kneeling by the bed, pouring wine.
What about kissing?
“Kissing is praying too, darling. Look, I bow my head,
same as when I pray.”
“They make me sick,” I say.
“I’ve told you before, dear, God rewards you for kissing.”
Lenore sits up in bed. Whaa—?
“The way we make love is the way God will be with us.
With the mouth alone it is possible. That’s right, darling,
that’s the mystery of the mouth.”
Leopard dog wags his tail.
THIS IS GOOD, he says.
“Shut up. You’re a stupid dog,” I say. “What do you know?”
I KNOW YES AND NO
AND BOW WOW. GOOD DOG,
BAD DOG. I KNOW PLAY
AND STAY. LICK I KNOW
AND SNIFF I KNOW. BOW WOW,
BOW WOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW?
“Who’s that?” Father yells.
That’s just Leopard. He knows we’re in here.
He’s lonely. Darling, would you mind?
He likes to watch.
You know what I’m saying. He’s just a dog.
3. The Holiness in Sex
GR-R-R— Leopard on his haunches
peeping through the keyhole.
“Hey, move over, Dog, scram!”
Leopard Dog snaps at my hand,
eyes like cracked glass.
LOOK OUT. I EAT LITTLE BOYS FOR BREAKFAST!
“The socks come off and the feet talk,” Father says.
YOUR FATHER’S ALL MUSCLE.
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?
LENORE LIKES THAT. THEY’RE A MATCH.
THAT’S YOUR NEW MOTHER.
“The way to heaven is not up, but down.
Love—marriage—intercourse, what are they, darling?
A tangling of toes, right?
So, how does this feel, Lenore?
Good… and this?”
Oh, doctor, doctor… You know,
I like professional men… full of surprises.
Crazy talk. Silly exams… touching…
and nice pajamas.
THERE THEY GO, SONNY.
“The holiness derives from feeling the pleasure,” Father says.
“No pleasure, no holiness.”
OOO, WICKY, WICKY, says Leopard Dog,
THAT’S HOW YOU WERE MADE, LITTLE BOY.
NO WICKY WICKY, NO LITTLE BOY.
“Move, darling, move, you need to move!”
LOOK AT THAT. IT’S HEELS OVER BEDPOSTS.
IT’S WICKY WICKY HE LOVES, NOT YOU, SONNY.
4. Lenore Gets on Top
Father sits on the side of the bed
whinnying like a horse.
That lady does it too.
“So look at us,” he says,
reaching for her.
“we’re invisible, that’s what we are.”
“Invisible, yes: no boundary between exterior and interior.
Tell me, darling, where do I leave off and you begin?
Inside you is inside me. Outside you is outside me.
We’re both the same.
So, who sees that? Who sees us? We’re invisible.”
Luftmensch, head in the clouds.
You miss this, doctor, and you miss that.
You think that makes you a mystic?
Invisible? I’ll show you invisible.
WHAT, YOU STILL DON’T GET IT? says Dog,
thwacking me with his tail.
LENORE’S YOUR MOMMY, LITTLE BOY,
WICKY WICKY’S YOUR FATHER.
YOU HAD A MOTHER.
NOW YOU HAVE ANOTHER.
Hands on his shoulders, she sits on father,
moves up and down.
Now you see it, now you don’t, she says.
BAD LENORE, BAD. THAT’S NOT DOG, says Dog,
barking at the keyhole.
“There is man and woman and a third thing, too,
in us, says the *poet. That’s the eye in the heart
that sees into the invisible. The goal, Poet says, is to see
with the eye of the heart so like sees like.”
Shut up, she says, shut up and schtupp.
“Oh God, marry me,” he says, “marry me.”
*Father quoting Jelaluddin Rumi.
LENORE... reprinted from God is in the Cracks (Black Moss Press), 2006, copyright (c) Robert Sward.
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...