Where is he when his son’s dog hangs?
Not close enough to hear the scratches
echo from the tunnel slide, see the leash
tied up at the top of the jungle gym,
the dog at the other end, kneading
smooth hard plastic. The cops bag it
like dirty laundry and it takes two men
to haul it and heave it into the cruiser.
The father holds a felt blanket over
his son, smooths the creases down his back,
guides his shoulders with firm hands,
lifts his chin with one finger to the men
in uniform. The boy describes the ones
who did it and it’s then a manhunt. Neighbours
accusing each other’s children. Police
interrogations in the schools. Sympathizers
go in bunches with flowers for his family,
bake them apple rhubarb pies, whisper
in convenience stores and parking lots
about the boy who had to watch
his poor dog die.
…………………..They receive, the father
estimates, one hundred calls and messages.
Steady mail, even a letter from Scandinavia
from a couple that breeds Finnish dogs,
reindeer herders. Lapphunds, they call them.
His family can have one if they’d like.
The story is out and the world has chosen
to stand by. The father wants nothing more
to do with it. But he still keeps that letter close,
thumbs the corners of it, holds it like a prize.
He considers writing the Scandinavians
but hasn’t settled on what to type.
He wants to tell them: We’re coming,
we’re just about to board the plane,
and by the time that you receive this
we will have come and gone already.
He spends a week thinking of how to put it
in exactly the right words, how grateful
he was to receive their letter, how
he has read it over a dozen times. He wants
to tell them how he folds it into quarters,
always along the same creases,
through words like acreage, obedient,
…………………..Then his son admits it
was an accident. Tied the leash himself
and then went down the slide. The dog,
a good one, had gone to follow.
The ones who believed the boy want
to see him punished, put to shame.
But the father thinks that he can feel it,
what his son must have felt right then,
watching his friend put paw over paw,
each step slipping like the last.
He knows, at least, that it’s a lesson
best learned young: to tell a lie and give
it up, before you have to shoulder it
for what will be, with any luck, a long life.