Poems: The Sound of Dogs Breathing

By Janet McCann, September 2016, Updated November 2017
Except myself and the dogs, would I write
Poems for them?
Rhythmic yips and a growl,
Refrain of woofs,
Their names repeated twice,
A high yowl sliding down a rail
To a quavering whine.
And they do like some arrangements
Better than others, they go from fast to slow.
Lots of range in the howl,
And the yaps, staccato, snappy as orders,
Until I can’t continue their poem
Because they are standing on my chest
Licking my face, adding impromptu yelps.
Of course I would write for them,
Would take their critique seriously,
Would collaborate with them on a dog poetics
Which would change of course with every passing litter.
Poems about the chase, about the snap
Of jaws, about doggy humping and birthing,
No poems of death or poems of writing.
A lot might be said of such a poetics
If no one were listening, only me and the dogs.
The sounds of dogs breathing in the house,
Their breaths rising and falling
In darkened rooms.
If late at night I pad to the kitchen
Following the night lights
And a vague thirst
Paw pads follow me,
A change in the rhythm
Of inhalation, a sigh.
Back to the bedroom, the breaths
Relax, become regular.
The night’s activity has shut down,
And I am not alone.
he can hardly walk for all the myth
he’s bearing, werewolf and night
marauder, bloody-mouthed killer,
though we remember the wolf of Perugia
St Francis made a deal with, no more
eating people and you’ll be fed, and the wolf
became a model citizen, was mourned
at death, and buried at the city gate. lone wolf,
wolf-whistle, don’t wolf your food. my father
had a wolf-dog as pet, not at home in either house
or pen, inside knocked over tables
and lamps, at night howled outside
light leaking from his teeth, until my father
opened up the chain-link gate,
invited him in.


Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 87: Fall 2016

Janet McCann is a professor emerita in the English department at Texas A&M University, where she has taught for more than 45 years. She has written numerous poetry collections, and her honors include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an ardent dog lover.