BY NOAH BALDINO
When I reach for my rain jacket draped over the armchair,
Fanny flinches so hard that she falls to the floor. I can’t explain
that I won’t hit her. Not while her elbows still bleed
from that blanketless cage she spent her old life in—
her whole life, till last week. Until last week
she had never seen a couch before. I had to bring soft things to her,
carry cushions and duvets to the corner she’d staked
and refused to leave, not even to pee,
my jeans urine-dark at the knees every night; she faced the wall
while between shoulder blades I applied her flea medication. The shelter
said she’s shy, but that’s only half right—yes, she spooks
when aluminum peals off the molding because she eats so hard she rattles
the bowl. But that first night, after I’d pointed, pleading couch, couch,
and had lifted her, leg by hesitant leg, saying feel that, it’s the same
as stairs, remember stairs, hoisting her bony butt up like one child helps another
clamber over a fence, nipping jaws at their heels, this dog I’d prayed would
choose me as the first she’d believe—me who needs, so selfishly,
someone’s believing—rested, finally, her massive head in my lap. The weight of it
undeniable as rain to a roof. As mange to fur. I can’t say
I won’t hit her, since harmlessness isn’t a height
you can reach, the last detached rung pencil-etched on the doorframe.
It’s more like a muscle, worked—then rested. The rest is
what scares me the most. How many times have I fetched
the rope-toy of my anger just to thrash it as soon as
a friend comes too close? Beloved, you’ve seen me
spend whole weeks in tense stupor, each I’m sorry, whoever, bones beneath
the backyard. Why are you here now, bringing soup that you made me
even after I’ve listened far less than I’ve loved? For some of us, fear cedes
the body to stillness. For others, it’s more a cruel heat you lose
track of, scalding any hand, burning the bottoms of pots. Fanny yawns,
sleep-settled. Her tail flickers against me. You use bones to make the broth.
BY NOAH BALDINO
The vet tells me my new dog is exceptionally food motivated.
I, too, am very food motivated. I once throttled
down my throat an entire lifetime
supply of Nabisco Animal Crackers
just to get the lunch monitor to finally call me The Ark.
For only fifty dollars I would dare to take on the World’s
Largest Marshmallow. Someone’s called me that too.
But when I’m alone, I don’t call myself anything. I like
to wriggle my way out of my mouth, to stay so quiet that
when I whisper who’s hungry the dog wonders if she
dreamt the bowl herself. I suspect that last night
she tried to slip off my socks with her teeth. Here lies
a lone thread, laced around her snaggletooth, lilting
alarmingly in the morning breeze. Our attempts
for comfort keep me limber as a cheesecake, in the mind.
I doubt I’d eat a sock. At least, not a wool one. But who am I to judge?
All of 2010 I tried to take in meatball after meatball until
my dad wasn’t dead anymore. It nearly worked—deep inside
I felt a gurgle and knew if I stopped precisely then I’d have
as many meatballs as he’d had years. I’m not sure I’m ready
to say his age out loud. But yes, that’s how the dead speak:
a gurgle here, a grumble. If the dog pressed her ear to
my gut, I swear she’d hear a hallelujah. But she never listens.
So it’s fitting, to talk with him like this. A trail of treats
to teach her to climb the stairs. A mint on the pillow of grief.
That whole year, I spent lunch on a bench in the dog park.
All sorts of breeds would sit beside me, my little disciples of meat.
Someone with a Pomeranian passed just as my fork missed its landing—
we made eye contact, thick marinara the wrong half of a masquerade
mask. I hope Heaven is full of people who look away in kindness
when a dogless stranger’s lathered in spaghetti sauce. Do you
kiss your father with that mouth? they said. I thought them my Saint Peter.
I was silent then. But I have a dog now.