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The Missouri Review 27.2 (2004) 173-174
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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.