Back to Issue Thirty-Four

A Dog Barking into the Night


Creon’s error is remarkable
when viewed as confusion

                                              about the proper placement
of the living and the dead,
                                             for Antigone, whom he seals
in a cave, is a vital young woman and, so,
belongs in the sun.
                                   It is her brother,
already dead on the sunlit battlefield,
                                                                who requires a tomb.


It makes sense, therefore,
                                             that Antigone hangs herself,
death being the circumstance
her placement demands.
                                           Thus, Creon creates
from nothing
                         a situation that demands
two tombs.
                       It’s like the saddest time
of my life.

                     Let me explain:


One evening years ago
                                        in Cleveland,
my brother and I
                                 stood on his front porch smoking.
Our father was in the hospital
All night long,
                            this chained dog whimpered into the frozen night.
It isn’t right, my brother said,
                                                   to keep a dog
chained up like that. 
                                   I nodded and took another drag,
smoke filling my lungs
                                       as a thought
fills the mind.
                            And then we went inside.

The next morning, as I got in my car,
ready to drive to the hospital,
                                                 I found that dog
frozen by the chain link fence.
                                                    Snow had crusted
over his chain. It wasn’t right,


                                                    of course. The dog
belonged inside. It was an error
of placement.
                            My father wasting away in his hospital bed—
at that point in his illness,
                                             he became an animal, too,


his hands,
                     I’m not kidding,
                                             looked like claws
curved around the remote control.
                                                             I will not forget how,
because he could not get out of bed,
                                                               and the nurses had grown
                       I held his cock in my hand
while he pissed into a dirty drinking glass.
                                                                     Thank you,
he said when he was through.


                                                    And in that moment,
I could not remember him
                                               the way I knew he’d once been,
a man, a human being,
                                        more than the accumulation
of the failures
                            of a dying animal body.


                     do this to you. The rattle of pill carts,
the nurses and their iPads.
                                               I was teaching a class
on Greek drama,
                               and had come to that point in Antigone
where Creon realizes his error,
                                                    where, too late,
he corrects his mistake,
burying Antigone’s brother
                                               properly. By then, she has hanged
                making her placement in the cave abruptly


                   I had wanted a happier ending
for my father,
                           sitting by his bedside,
making notes in the margins
of my book.
                         At the back of the cancer ward,
the private elevator
                                   was large enough for a gurney.
I imagined it went right down
                                                    a dark throat
to a basement.


                                  I held his claw and read.
Soon, my brother would visit,
still angry about his neighbor’s dog.
                                                             When the nurse asked
if we needed anything,
I didn’t even look up from my book.
I told her. My father was asleep.
                                                         The dog was dead.
Antigone was a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl,
and then she was,
                                   like her brother,
like all of us, eventually,
                                         no place at all.



A Row of Distant Black Pines


When he was very drunk,
                                           my father told me
how he had held another man’s head under water
until that man’s entire body shuddered and relaxed
and only his leg
                            twitched on the muddy riverbank. Anyway,
he said,
                It was a long time ago. Time passes.
That’s the thing about time.
                                        The bar was nearly empty.
For a long while he looked into the glittering
rows of bottles. Drink up,
                                               he said at last,
fishing in his pocket for his keys.
                                                       Drink up.


Is your fingernail
                            part of your body, 
the professor asked,
                                     pretending to examine
the back of her perfectly manicured hand.

What about when you trim your fingernails?
Are the clippings part of your body?

I was watching very closely
as a fat black ant crawled across my open textbook.

What if they are false fingernails? What if your hand
is prosthetic? Are they part of you?

Are the microorganisms in your gut?

What I am trying to say, she said, is that the borders 
of your body are not clear,             
                                        what I am trying to say
is that the moon is certainly not your body,
but the cell phone you’re holding
is perhaps as much a part of your body as your fingernails,

and so she went on until class ended
and I closed my textbook
                                             over the body of the ant.


There in the lecture hall,
my mind held an image of the moon,

but the moon kept flickering.

It would not hold its place.
It became something else,

a white face in a receding patrol car window
I remembered.

The moon, it turned out,
was not a part of my body,

though I could hold it in my thoughts
for a while before it shifted,

though its likeness filled my mind


as mist might have filled a distant forest one evening
years ago,
                   my father rising from the riverbank
and disappearing, finally, into the black pines.

The mind rests there,
                                        at the riverbank
where that body—it had been, in fact, a soldier—
has just stopped twitching,


                                               or at that moment
when the professor told us our bodies
are merely relational, that they don’t exist
beyond their relations,
                                     in the same way that a car
refers only to a complex relationship
between wheels, bumpers, engine, etc.

She was a thin woman, about forty,
black hair, bright red fingernails and lipstick.                                                                      

My eyes lingered on her body as she spoke.


Your mother, he said,
                                   is not going to be happy with us,
as he pulled from the parking lot
                                                       into the street.
The sodium lights glittered.
It had begun to rain. I’m sorry
about what I said back there.
                                            It was all 
bullshit. And he laughed. I never killed
anybody. The road was long and black.
He was talking about other things now,
some whore he met in Frankfurt,
                                                         long before
I knew your mother.
                               Best part of the war.


The image of fingernail clippings
drifting to the floor.

The click of her heels as she walked from the podium.
A rustling of knapsacks.

My father didn’t notice, at first, the blue lights,
the siren behind us.


                                   And Come on! he told
the cop who escorted him
to the patrol car,
                               I had two drinks! The cop,
surprisingly gentle, cuffed him and led him
away from me.
                            And then
she was helping my father’s heavy body into the back seat,
closing the car door,
                                     his moonlike face
pressed now to the window,
                                                 his breath fogging the glass,


an image that returns to me frequently,
the police car
                         pulling into the bodiless night, receding
while I stood for a moment
at the edge of the windy highway

and a row of distant black pines
swayed like a chorus.

Kevin Prufer‘s seventh book, How He Loved Them (Four Way Books, 2018), won the Julie Suk Award, was a finalist for the Rilke Prize, and was on the 2019 Pulitzer Prize longlist. His next book, The Art of Fiction, will be published by Four Way Books in 2021. He has other new poems in Tin House, The Paris Review, AGNI, Best American Poetry 2020, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology.

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