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J A N U A R Y   2 0 0 0

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STRAYS

by Stanley Plumly



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(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by Stanley Plumly:
The Marriage in the Trees (1996)
Naps (1998)
Piano (1999)

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They'd show up at evening, with the change
of light, between a long day and supper,
close to the road or edge of the yard,
heads low, half starved, but quick as crows.
If you fed them, left meat scraps out at night,
they'd come back hungrier, and if you didn't,
if you ignored them or threw stones, they'd
simply back away, wary, starving, waiting
for dark in order to raid the smoking ashes
of the garbage, sometimes alone or in pairs,
sometimes in cerberus three-headed numbers.
They seemed almost to live somewhere, and near,
as certain of their ground as neighbors.

Serious neighbors shot them or tried to poison,
while my father went to gather what he could
into the cowbed of his truck to be ferried.
Dogs that year were let out everywhere,
mongrels, pets, freak accidents, some with
mange or worse, the year of the holiday
death counts, the year somebody driving fast
blind-sided one in front of the house,
sent it flying all at once over the car:
it rose where it fell, where nobody wanted
to touch it since it acted still alive,
its puffed pink tongue lolling in its blood,
its canine neutral eye rolled over white.

We'd seen death before, and death brought back
to life, the spirit arm or leg of what was
missing from a boy, the mouth of the polio
friend breathing again, the ice of her face
on fire. But this was filled, unbroken flesh
continuous, the matted hair and open sores
unchanged. Somebody said, and I wished I'd
said it, let's find a place and bury it,
which nobody wanted to do, for fear of rabies
or a dog's disease. Finally one of the fathers
took a hind in each warm hand and dragged
the animal dead weight over to the shoulder,
where serious crows and flies resurrect.




Stanley Plumly is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. His poem in this issue is included in his book Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me: New & Selected Poems, to be published this June by Ecco/HarperCollins.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 2000; Strays; Volume 285, No. 1; page 57.

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