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Sunken Garden Poetry Festival

Charles by Accident

Named Charlie for the relaxed
companionship we expected,
he became Charles for his butler-like
obedience, though he was off-duty.

the morning my wife walked back
from the mailbox watching him
toss what looked like a red sock
gloriously into the air,

seeing it was actually the cardinal
she had been feeding all winter.
Why did she scream like that
was the question his whole,

horrified body seemed to ask, just
before he disappeared, back soon
at the door, black coat, white collar,
all ready to serve us: who was

that other dog, anyway? Who,
on the other hand, was this one,
chosen at the pound for his breed
and small size, now grown into three

or four different kinds of large
dogs stuck together. It wasn't his fault,
of course, that in the end he wasn't
Charlie, or even, considering the way

he barked at guests and sniffed them,
Charles exactly. Besides, it couldn't
have been easy to be whatever
sort of dog he was. Part retriever,

he spent his winters biting ice,
and summers dirt out of his tufted paws.
Part Collie, all he ever got to herd
were two faux sheep: a wire-haired terrier

that bit him back and a cat that turned
and ran up trees. An accidental sheep-dog,
Charles by accident, and our dog only
after he'd been disowned, he understood

that life is all missed connections
and Plan B -- the reason why, perhaps,
no one could quite pat him or say
good boy enough, and why sometimes,

asleep, he mourned, working his legs
as if running to a place he could never
reach, beyond Charles or any other
way we could think of to call him.

From Fire: Poems, by Wesley McNair
Used by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher
Copyright 2002 by Wesley McNair

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