Featured Poet: Cleopatra Mathis, Hanover, N.H., and Post Mills, V.T.
Cleopatra Mathis has published 6 books; the most recent is White Sea, Sarabande, 2005. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, The Georgia Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Best American Poetry 2009; she was a Yaddo Fellow and a Fellow at the Dora Maar House in Provence, France, during winter and spring, 2010. She is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and two Pushcart Prizes. She has taught creative writing at Dartmouth College since 1982, where she is the Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing.
"Canis" is the first poem I wrote in a series about my most recent experience on the outer beach of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Coyotes have recently found their way to Cape Cod, and the poem introduces a central metaphor in my new manuscript, Book of Dog.
I consider the poem a kind of gift because the precipitating event in the poem happened just as it's described. I'm not usually so lucky that a poem seems to write itself, as this one did. But I find that metaphor is very sneaky: it finds us in the fabric of our lives; we don't invent it.
It was a small comment, wasn’t it, about who they were
— that last year on the dunes when all the town talk
was of coyotes, prairie wolf in search of an ocean,
those footprints instead of rabbits surrounding the shack
or half-sunk in the cranberry bog
just off the path. They heard the howling somewhere
behind their backs as they walked out past midnight,
singing at the top of their lungs:
abandon me, oh careless love-- although they knew
the coyotes knew exactly where they were. No surprise
to either of them when they wailed unusually close
and loud on a moonless night after an argument,
this time a mean one about the dogs. For God’s sake,
the dogs, how much trouble they were to him,
their feeding and whining and constant
need to go out, no matter how wet or cold. And so on
till silence set itself between them, holding stiff
as each turned away to bed. But the coyotes just outside
started up their merciless lament, as if
the entire genus called them, had bound the tribe together
in protest for their brothers. Hours they heard the keening,
both of them sleepless, that rising, falling
complaint in their ears-- until he couldn’t bear it, he said
I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore, and she in a rush
of understanding the exact suffering fit of it, jumped up
and closed the offending one window’s
half-inch crack, and just like that
in the dead center of a moan, the coyotes
stopped their noise; what I mean to say is
the wind stopped making that heartbroken sound.
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