000C. K. Williams
Except for the dog, that she wouldn’t have him put away,
000wouldn’t let him die, I’d have liked her.
She was handsome, busty, chunky, early middle-aged, very
000black, with a stiff, exotic dignity
That flurried up in me a mix of warmth and sexual apprehension
000neither of which, to tell the truth,
I tried very hard to nail down: she was that much older and in those
000days there was still the race thing.
This was just at the time of civil rights: the neighborhood I was
000living in was mixed.
In the narrow streets, the tiny three-floored houses they called
which had been servants’ quarters first, workers’ tenements,
000then slums, still were, but enclaves of us,
beatniks and young artists, squatted there and commerce
000between everyone was fairly easy.
Her dog, a grinning mongrel, rib and knob, gristle and grizzle,
000wasn't terribly offensive.
The trouble was that he was ill, or the trouble more exactly was
000that I had to know about it.
She used to walk him on a lot I overlooked, he must have had
000a tumor or a blockage of some sort
because every time he moved his bowels, he shrieked, a
000chilling, almost human scream of anguish.
It nearly always caught me unawares, but even when I’d see them
000first, it wasn’t better.
The limp leash coiled in her hand, the woman would be profiled
000to the dog, staring into the distance,
Apparently oblivious, those breasts of hers like stone, while he,
000not a step away, laboring,
trying to eject the feeble, mucous-coated, blood-flecked
000chains that finally spurted from him,
would set himself on tiptoe and hump into a question mark,
000one quivering back leg grotesquely lifted.
Every other moment he’d turn his head, as though he wanted her,
000to no avail, to look at him,
then his eyes would dim and he’d drive his wounded anus in the dirt,
lurching forward in a hideous, electric dance as though someone
000were at him with a club.
When at last he’d finish, she’d wipe him with a tissue like a child;
000he’d lick her hand.
It was horrifying; I was always going to call the police; once I
000actually went out to chastise her—
Didn’t she know how selfish she was, how the animal was
000suffering?—she scared me off, though.
She was older than I’d thought, for one thing, her flesh was
000loosening, pouches of fat beneath the eyes,
And poorer, too, shabby, tarnished: I imagined smelling something
000faintly acrid as I passed.
Had I ever really mooned for such a creature? I slunk around the
000block, chagrined, abashed.
I don’t recall them too long after that. Maybe the dog died, maybe
000I was just less sensitive.
Maybe one year when the cold came and I closed my windows,
000I forgot them … then I moved.
Everything was complicated now, so many tensions, so much
Anyway, those back streets, especially in bad weather when
000the ginkgos lost their leaves, were bleak.
It’s restored there now, ivy, painted brick, garden walls with
000broken bottles mortared on them,
But you’d get sick and tired then: the rubbish in the gutter, the general
000sense of dereliction.
Also, I found a girl to be in love with: all we wanted was to
000live together, so we did.
from Tar, Random House, 1983