Read The Poet's Dog Online

Authors: Patricia MacLachlan

The Poet's Dog

Dedication

T
HIS BOOK IS FOR

E
MILY—

WITH LOVE,

P. M.

Epigraph

D
ogs speak words

But only poets

And children

Hear

—P. M.

CHAPTER ONE
Lost and Found

I
found the boy at dusk.

The blizzard was fierce, and it would soon be dark.

I could barely see him with the snow blowing sideways. He stood at the edge of the icy pond, shivering.

He had no hat, and his blond hair was
plastered to his head.

Suddenly a limb cracked and fell down next to him, and when he jumped to one side, he saw me coming through the drifts of snow toward him.

I nosed his hand gently. He wasn't afraid of me.

He was afraid of the storm. I could see tear streaks on his face.

He led me to his sister crouched under a big tree, a blanket wrapped around her. She was younger, maybe eight. The boy pulled the blanket more tightly around her.

I nosed her, too. When she stood up, my eyes looked into hers.

I would take care of them.

I'm a dog. I should tell you that right away. But I grew up with words. A poet named Sylvan found me at the shelter and took me home. He laid down a red rug for me by the fire, and I grew up to the clicking of his keyboard as he wrote.

He wrote all day. And he read to me. He read Yeats and Shakespeare, James Joyce, Wordsworth, Natalie Babbitt, and Billy Collins. He read me
Charlotte's Web
,
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
,
Morning Girl
, and my favorite story,
Ox-Cart Man
. So I saw how words follow one another and felt the comfort of them.

I understand words, but there are only two who understand me when I speak.
Sylvan once told me this.

“Poets and children,” said Sylvan. “We are the same really. When you can't find a poet, find a child. Remember that.”

Remember that.

The boy held on to my body to help him stand in the wind.

“Help,” he said.

I knew what his word meant.

Sylvan taught me about rescue.

I would save them the way Sylvan had saved me.

The boy took his sister's hand, and they followed me. We hurried through the
woods, past the big rock, down the path by the shed where I had slept after Sylvan was gone. It had only been three days. I had learned to count:

Day and night one.

Day and night two.

Day and night three.

Or was it four days? Being alone confuses the truth about time.

Sylvan's poetry students took turns feeding me. Ellie, my favorite, knew that I couldn't sleep in the house with Sylvan gone. She would have taken me home with her, but she knew I couldn't leave either.

The boy put his hand on my neck. It felt good to me. Sylvan used to walk in the
woods with his hand on my neck. Sometimes he spoke in poems.

I felt like crying. But here's another truth: dogs can't cry. We can feel sadness and grief.

But we can't cry.

“Where are we going?” the girl asked, her clear voice like a bell. The wind whipped her hair across her face.

“Home,” I said, speaking for the first time.

She wasn't surprised I spoke.

She put her face close to my ear so I could feel her warm breath.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

I wished I could cry.

CHAPTER TWO
Home

W
e reached the clearing, struggling through the snow and wind.

“Oh!” said the girl when she saw the cabin.

There was the light in the window. Sylvan had kept it on all the nights and days we lived together.

“It's our beacon,” he'd told me.

I knew the door wouldn't be locked. I nosed the lever on the door open. Sylvan had given me the lever so that I could go in and out as I wanted.

We stepped out of the howling of wind into the quiet.

The boy and girl stripped off their coats and I shook snow from my fur.

“I'm Flora,” said the girl. “I'm cold. My blanket is wet. He's Nickel,” she added, pointing to her brother.

“I'm Nicholas,” he said. “Flora calls me Nickel.”

“I'm Teddy,” I said. “I like Nickel.”

It was dark except for the one beacon
light. Nickel turned on two lamps.

“Can you build a fire?” I asked him. “There's wood and kindling on the hearth.”

He nodded.

“I'm almost twelve.”

Flora hung up her coat on a hook by the door.

“Why are you lost?” I asked.

“The car slid into a snowbank, and my mother couldn't get it started again,” said Flora.

Nickel had stacked kindling and wood in the fireplace. He found the matches on the mantel.

“She left her cell phone at home. She saw the lights of a house down the road
where a family had been shoveling and left us to get help,” he said.

“She was gone a long time,” said Flora.

“We could have stayed in the car, but people came and knocked on the car windows, telling us the car was going to be towed off the road before it got covered with snow,” said Nickel. “Flora was scared.”

“Nickel was scared, too,” said Flora, making Nickel smile.

Then the flames of the fire flickered across the room, warming us—the first fire in days. Flora walked over to Sylvan's computer, touching it.

I can almost see Sylvan there in the light of the fire, his hair gray like mine—on his head and on his face. Later, when I learn words, I know that this was called a beard.

I remember when I first spoke words to him. He had read
Ox-Cart Man
to me several times because he knew I loved it.


Ox-Cart Man
is a poem,” I say, my own voice startling me.

Sylvan turns from his computer, beaming.

“Yes!”

Tears come to his eyes, and I walk over to lick them.

Sylvan reaches up and takes a small mirror off the wall. He holds it so both of us can look into it.

“Same hair. Same eyes. We both think in words,” says Sylvan.

I'
M THE POET

Y
OU'RE THE DOG.

W
HICH ONE'S THE POET?

W
HICH ONE'S THE DOG?

“That isn't a poem, Teddy.

“That's our song.”

Sylvan makes up a tune for it and sings it to me every so often.

“I'd better call my dad. He's probably out of class because of the storm,” said Nickel.

“No phone,” I said. “Sylvan didn't like phones.”

“No phone?” he repeated.

“No.”

“The computer?”

“No. Only for Sylvan's writing. He didn't connect it to the outside world. He only used it for his words. And no television. He has . . . he
had
a device for checking the weather. We can look for that later.”

“My parents will be worried,” said Nickel.

“I wrote a note,” said Flora. “I left it on the front seat so Mama would know we had help.”

Nickel stared at Flora.

“You? You wrote a note?”

Flora nodded.

“I can write, you know. I wrote
Were safe
in big letters.”

No one spoke.

Flora shrugged.

“I made it up. I think I forgot the apostrophe.”

“You
are
safe,” I said. “You didn't make that up.”

“You did a great thing, Flora,” said Nickel. “Maybe Mama won't worry.”

“I only did one thing,” said Flora. “You saved me. You wrapped me in a blanket. You got me out of the cold car.”

Nickel shook his head.

“Teddy saved us.”

“Maybe it was
you
who found Teddy,” said Flora stubbornly.

“We found each other,” I said. “The end.”

Flora grinned at me.

A log in the fireplace flamed up. The light bounced off the walls like Sylvan's words when he read out loud.

Flora went over to look at pictures of Sylvan. There was one of him surrounded by students in the house. And one of Sylvan and me, our heads close together.

Flora turned.

“That's you,” she said.

“After Sylvan saved me.”

Flora turned back to the picture.

“Did someone leave you behind before Sylvan rescued you?”

“Yes.”

“Like us,” she said, still looking at the picture.

Nickel turned from the fireplace, his face sad.

“She didn't leave us, Flora. She went to get help for us,” he said.

“Children tell tiny truths,” Sylvan told me once. “Poets try to understand them.”

It was Flora who told tiny truths. It was Nickel who found them hard to hear. He
didn't want to think of his mother leaving them for a long time in a fierce storm.

A log crackled and sent sparks out past the stone hearth. Nickel swept them back.

It was the way it used to be.

Flora stared at me. Somehow I knew what she was thinking. It would be Flora who would ask the question.

“So where is he?” she asked. “Sylvan?”

Her voice was soft. The question was not unkind. But I couldn't answer. I walked to the window and looked out.

Flora didn't follow me.

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