5 a.m., she vaults onto the pillow -
no easy landing. “Wake up!”
She never learned to puppy-pile,
cuddle comfort against a mother's belly.
She's all angles - elbow, hock,
shoulder-blade knocking against your
sleep. Machine of intricately
meshed gears on a drive-train spine.
Pure energy and moving parts.
You wake up cursing her knuckle
in your eye. Nothing in your life is safe
now. She roughs the cat and rags
the old dog, she rearranges the living
room. And then she unwinds
in a flash, on her back before me
for a tummy-rub, her tongue a flick
of love against my hand. Then
up and running, she's a constant change
of plan. Shall I ever discover the sweet
puppy wrapped in steel-spring?
It pulls her out the doorway, down the hill.
Something new to a dog's nose.
This old world looks just the same to me,
dried out by drought at summer's end.
Nothing green or freshly minted -
but everything's new to a dog's nose.
Take this stone, whitewashed
by last winter's floods -
just a chunk of creek-bottom rock -
ecstatically new to a dog's nose,
with a tough scrim of dried-on fluff
like old meringue. My dog scrubs
it with her breath; inhales its common
wonder, new to a dog's nose,
a come-hither scent that's got her
creeping on her elbows
for a closer sniff. Secrets I'll never
know; new to a dog's nose.
This morning's first
light for a neglected pup
in a crate, his life
sieved through wire.
What does any dog desire
but to let the wild
fire of sun,
wind, earth stir him
to run for the horizon?
Give him just one
to tug his end of leash,
to make the rules
bend; to fly.
Now just watch
of them dash by -
under sky. Alive.
Taylor Graham is a volunteer search-and-rescue dog handler in the Sierra Nevada. She's included in the anthologies Villanelles (Everyman's Library, 2012) and California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Santa Clara University, 2004). Her book The Downstairs Dance Floor was awarded the Robert Philips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Her current project is a collection of dog poems, about living with her canine search partners over the past 40 years.