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The Missouri Review 27.2 (2004) 173-174

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For Jim
          We were sitting in the Abbey waiting,
and he was telling me, low-voiced,
about their week-old spaniel pups,
the one with the tail that was two-thirds brown,
the white only up near the tip.

If he did it right, he said
          —if he cut for the flash—
          she'd be like the mother, her tail over-long,
always bloody after hunting,
by furze and briar.

Ah, to hell with the theory, he said,
          —the theory and the purists—
blaze or no blaze, he'd cut her short;
he'd not see her hurt like Jess.

It was November,
the old year was slipping, the new one
drawing closer. There were monks drifting through,
you could feel them, uncertain,
pressed close to the walls
and in the worn places,
called back to mark these eight hundred years
          of the Abbey's grey stones in the valley.

          He would do it himself?

          He would, he said. A hot knife—fast—the heat sealing
the cut flesh. His hands mimed
the knife and the pup, I watched them,
the swift, sure cut,
against the dark wood, the monks drawing in
for a better look. I thought of our pups—
warm flesh-sacks, they'd jumped in my hands [End Page 173]
as the clippers closed—of the small bloody heap
of puppy dogs' tails
on the vet's table. The monks were remembering
the oddness of hands, smells, blood, you could feel them
growing focused, denser, remembering
the body's red roar
                    and the past stretching back
          till it slid off the edge of time and the world,
and always a dog and a man
—through first light, through last light—
a man and a dog
          moving always together.

Kerry Hardie is the author of several books of poetry, including In Sickness, A Furious Place, Cry for the Hot Belly and The Sky Didn't Fall. Her novels include A Winter Marriage and The Bird Woman, scheduled for publication in 2005. She received the Patrick Kavanagh Award and The Suspended Sentence Award in 2004, the Hennessy Award for Poetry in 1998, and the National Poetry Prize in 1996, among many other honors.



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