For a Dog

Ryan Wilson

You’d wake us up—that shrill, insistent bark
Driving away whatever dreams had fogged
Our vision—and we’d rise in the true dark,

Wondering just what exactly, catalogued
By canine instinct under “THREAT,” was there,
What jogger, cat, or dog it was that dogged

You from your drowse beside the easy chair
And summoned your yapped pandemonium.
Nine times in ten it was just empty air,

Some ghosted scent you sniffed. Dumb—you were dumb,
Like all dogs, snuffling up to snakes, afraid
Of mice. When we said “come,” you wouldn’t come;

You capered when commanded to play dead,
And when we wanted most to be alone
You’d offer up that imbecilic head

Until we crowned your pity with a bone.
Our lives took on the shape you spun from need,
The harried rondure of routine. You gone,

The house is quieter, and we’ve been freed
Forever from the never-ending chores
Your tail entailed, the scrubbing where you peed,

The hunting stain-removers down in stores.
What’s hardest are the peaceful hours we wanted
So much when you were scratching up the doors

And howling at some phantom thing that haunted
The world without, some threat we couldn’t see
That you were desperate to have confronted.

Now you’re part of that present unity
Of absences the living move among,
In which what was, what will, and what can’t be

Dance in a ring to a triumphant song
We don’t have ears to hear, or heart to see,
Who sleep now perfectly, and much too long.

Ryan Wilson is the author of The Stranger World, which was awarded the 2017 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His work appears in periodicals such as First Things,
Five Points
, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, and The Sewanee Review.
Originally published:
November 1, 2017



The Abortion Stories We Tell

Do we need to be more radically honest?
Maggie Doherty


A Glass Essay

Reading Anne Carson post-breakup
Sarah Chihaya


For Argument's Sake

In praise of high school debate
Becca Rothfeld

You Might Also Like


D. and Dog

Lynne Potts

Pandemic Files

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

Monica Ferrell


Love Poem as Ars Poetica

Erica McAlpine


New perspectives, enduring writing. Subscribe to The Yale Review and receive four beautiful print issues per year.