The Dog by Matthew Sweeney | Poetry Magazine:
I used to be a dog. What kind? Oh, a mongrel. Nothing poncy like the black cocker spaniel called Bonzo I had as a child. And certainly not one of those four-footed, aloof snakes that go by the name of greyhound. I remember each and every one of the lice that lived on me.
Where did I live? In Sicily, where the sun shines like a fried egg every day of the year. I had the nose of an angel — I could smell porcini fifty trees away. I knew the man who would start a fight with my master the moment he walked in the bar door. I drank a saucer of red wine every day. I loved eating the butterflies that floated past me — one pounce and they were gone. And they were delicious. Better than the bones of a donkey whose meat provided salami for my master and his family. The boy was very good to me — he used to take me down to the sea and let me splash in the waves; then I’d come out onto the sand, barking, and I’d shake all the seawater onto him, wetting his clothes. He loved laughing, and I loved barking. Those were the days.
I never saw a kennel. My home was an old blanket under a gnarled vine that had been there since Dante wrote his only sestina, in homage to the troubadours. The heat was often scorching. The boy found it funny to put a straw hat on my head, one dyed in the colors of the Italian flag. I was up early, out scouting for rats to frighten away.
I once peed on a hedgehog to see what it would do. I ran along the clifftop, barking at the wheeling seagulls, and at the fishing boats they flew above. I sometimes ate my master’s leftover spaghetti bolognese in the taverna. My tail would wag like a fan revolving from the ceiling. I was taught party tricks that I’d be asked to do when the grappa was being downed. I’d lie down on the floor and die, to great applause. I’d sit up and beg, to coos and laughter, and I’d be rewarded with a sausage, and those were sausages to swim the Adriatic for.
I’d sometimes go down to the harbor to look for an attractive gray bitch I liked the smell of. I’d have to fight off other dogs, but I was good at that. I ate one of their ears. Once I followed her onto a boat that was heading out to fill up with fish. I had to swim back and I lay on the sand and slept. When I got home my master whipped me. I ran to my blanket, whimpering.
I was once brought to a circus, and into the tent of a one-eyed woman with black hair who had a pet parrot. I barked at it, and the parrot expertly returned my bark. I lay on the multi-colored mat and observed the strange bird who observed me. I was glad to leave that tent.
I enjoyed hearing the boy play his flute in the evenings. I heard those notes flutter up into the air, and I tried to see them, but never could. I never stopped trying, though.
The one thing I couldn’t eat was cheese. The few times I tried it I vomited. On the first occasion that happened I tried to eat it again. If I got the chance now I’d manage it, I’m sure. Who would not like to be a dog in the sun? A dog in the sun, like I used to be, long ago. It was an honor.