I was asked to a poetry reading last week. I haven’t read a poem in public for years. There is a very good reason for this: I haven’t written a poem for years. So I opened some Word files and searched around, hoping to get some piece of prose I could chop up into short lines and call a poem. But… BUT… I found a file labelled POEMS. Ah, I thought… wonderful. I’ll open this, choose from among the many poems, select three or four of the best, polish them up, read them, blow those folks away. I opened the POEMS file. One poem, written a couple of months ago and forgotten about.
I bulked it out with telling a joke. It’s an Irish joke, but being Irish I have a special dispensation, a papal dispensation, for telling Irish jokes. Here’s the joke:
Now you all know there are no snakes in Ireland, OK? And you all know why there are no snakes in Ireland… St Patrick drove them all out, right?
But do you know what St Patrick said to the snakes as he drove them out of Ireland? Then you make a ‘steering a car’ gesture, look over your shoulder and say: “Are you all right in the back there, lads?” Feel free. Roars of laughter guaranteed. I promise.
Then I hit them with my dog poem. The dog is Finn by the way. Of course.
The weight of the dog is a welcome weight, waking me in the morning, thrown across my thighs, or across my chest, his dog tongue in my ear a welcome warmth, the dog face thrust in mine saying hello, hello, hello. The weight of his body, his hair, his black-padded paws, his thrashy tail, his breath, his crooked lower teeth, his dogness, walks over me.
The weight of the dog says: James, we have made one more night, one more day, we have made, we will make, we welcome, we who have not been apart. It says we shall eat soon and grow stronger, we young dogs: coffee, toast, marmalade, old sausage, meat from a tin.
The weight of the dog says: James, soon we shall smell trees, bins, crisp packets, bits of bread, fly failing at squirrels, leap away from passing busses, piss on posts, steps, hedges, walls, shit on a gravel driveway, walk in wet grass, run wild in loops.
The weight of the dog says: James, our day, and all our days, will be healthy and fine and full, days of dashes and sleeps, avoiding loud noises, sniffing asses, assessing those we meet, ready for the chase of those who let us chase them.
Going to bed he flops on my feet, rising, turning in circles twice, three times, looking for snakes, then settles. I am trapped, but the weight of the dog is a welcome weight. I possess nothing, I am possessed, his weight across me pinning my feet for half the night, pinning down the bedclothes, lying in the space I want to turn to. I will make no move to disturb him, for the weight of the dog is a welcome weight, the welcome prison of love, a feeling I call love, and am happy with that mistake. Perhaps it is no mistake.
Poem, or POEM, over. Thank you. Now go tell that Irish joke.