Pete, a teenager who did side-work in my Dad's garage, had hair
like the guy on The Greatest American Hero. He would steer casually
up our driveway, the gravel crackling and snapping like fingers;
I'd squint and see Pete's hair glinting like some blonde
body of water, caught within the slick black shell of his car.
Gus arrived one Saturday during my eleventh summer.
When the dog tumbled out of his Firebird, Pete explained,
He's a Blue Heeler, and he was born thinking
he'd live to herd cattle, but this is a big farm, perfect
for him to run. He laughed. Maybe he'll think you're his herd.
Gus was blue and bowlegged, a strange little wheelbarrow of a dog.
He had blunt pig-eyes, pig-fur. He snorted when he ran. Sometimes Pete
would visit, but then he got a girlfriend. Gus had forgotten
him anyway, had begun to use his stranger-bark when he'd pull up.
Tasha came to have kittens in our barn, its hay turned to powder, black
as what goes inside a gun. The mouths of the kittens opened and closed like attic-
doors, like the beginning of a bedtime prayer; I was afraid to look inside
because I knew I'd see everything -- I'd see what made them alive.
They slept in the haymow, away from the mouths of dogs and coyotes.
Gus just couldn't behave -- he bit bumpers, boys my age, and our old girl-dog Cleo.
His lips were always peeled back, his waiting teeth were tiny swords of pearl.
I loved him from the lump in my throat -- what I thought was my heart --
that throbbing planet that would form when I cried hard enough to hiccup.
Gus had his own planet lodged in his throat; there was no way around it, no way
to breathe. When he found the kittens I saw him -- he shook them silent,
until they were like the oil-soft rags in my Dad's garage, until his planet
had dislodged. Tasha circled his legs in an awful dance. Take me instead,
take me, her voice crackling like gravel under a black car.
Pete's girlfriend must have dumped him -- he came back at the end of the summer.
I saw his hair first, like a beacon at the end of the long driveway.
It was too bright, false as the sun trapped in water. Gus waited for a signal,
hovered near me like horseflies, or bees that drop dead after stinging.
I cracked my knuckles and chimed Go on, Gus, Get! I willed that Firebird
to herd him, to carry him off in its glistening talons.
Date of Birth:
December 26, 1977
Union Grove, Wisconsin
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