20 December 2007

Michael Burkard

[from The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review, edited by Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang, 2000]

The Dogs on the Cliffs

They are there
after having long departed
from their memory, and whether there is any memory
of a master is hard to say, for they were
born into an island
which was poor, could not support the birth of dogs
except with the whiteness of the tourists'
faces, a whiteness like the wallets
and purses, the loose change of the lives
which brought them and their own memories to this island,
injury after jury.

The jury on the island says this:
the dogs may roam each summer
til it is obvious they are a menace,
chickens attacked, an occasional tourist
attacked, lingering now in small
pathetic packs. And thus they are herded
to the sea from the cliffs above,
enticed perhaps by some ice memory
(surely the local islanders don't entice them fully
with a little meat, are they that hungry?)

— an ice memory of the dogs of the year before,
and the fall before that, in the month of September,
upon an island which despises animals anyway —

and the dogs are brought to the cliffs and herded off.
To the sea. To the rocks and the sea below.
It is a long drop, even for a dog.


I did not so much live upon this island
as hear this story, more vividly told, with a particular
dog which followed a particular man — the dog even did a double
take one summer — when the man reappeared on Eos after departing
for a month to Athens — and the dog followed the double take —
just seeing the face twice — with following.

So the story is not mine, but I feared the man would never tell it —
though versions of stories like this must abound.

I can hear the stories on the cliffs,
I can hear the lamps wailing sometime
much later in the winter, in winter
when the animals are all dead, all of them, all
the past times down below
near the rocks off Eos.

Now the ice memory wakes: the jury reports
in a different dream
that the town and the villas are sold out
already for still another summer,
another history for history,
another past
for past.

Today, after only
at the morning paper

I thought of that phrase
history repeating itself,

thought if history repeats itself
it is still the same history,
more repetition, no

because it is the same history
the same hysteria
which could include even me

The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

1 comment:

  1. my favorite so far. Ouch. This is wonderful!!!