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The Great Unwashed
Poem

My golden retriever, four years old,
has not yet learned to swim.
He is standing chest-deep

on the edge of a green, rippling
pool on the West Fork of Cold Spring.
The sandstone floor of the pool

slopes into the deep end, but he stays
rooted in the shallows, even though
an encouraging lifeguard stands by

in the person of his patient owner.
Come on, I say. Fetch! I say.
The stick floats in a sparkling eddy,

and my dog stares as if at the current
prom queen whose hair is coming
unpinned in moist tendrils

down her neck, an elusive girl
so far beyond his mud-stained nose
he dare not ask her to dance.

What does one do with a sin-bedraggled
high church dog who shrinks
from the rite of total immersion?

What can be said to convict
him of the rigid error of his ways?
It is a time, alas, to preach tolerance—

respect, even—for dogs who know
their chosen limits, who refuse
to get in over their heads.

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Paul Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and served as a poet laureate for Santa Barbara, Calif. His most recent book of poems is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013).

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