Black Dog / Paul Nelson


Black Dog

poems by

Paul Nelson

ISBN: 978-1-59948-904-9, ~56 pages, $13 (+ shipping)

Release Date: March 30, 2022

The Advance Sale Discount price for this title has expired. Those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $17/book (which includes shipping) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, PO BOX 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227-7001. 

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With painter/wife Judith, Paul Nelson anchored early, worked sheep, beef, gardens, woodlot, and lobstered way Downeast. He and his wife taught as Professors of English and Art, respectively, as Visiting Artists to fund farm time. Most of his imagery comes from that rural life: 10 books of poetry. And a first book of fiction in 2019. Paul’s last decade teaching was as Director of Creative Writing for Ohio University. He and Judith lived with Rottweilers for 30 years. “Moby” took Best of Breed at Westminster Dog Show. The last two, “Doc” and “Mac”, were rescues who figure in Black Dog.

Black Dog’s speaker is speculative, and nature, i.e. a dog, teaches wisdom. Mortality, hubris, and other human failings range in this exquisite poetry: “as I waste my life/under the bushes of his scrutiny, his perfect nose/and sense of humor, my leg his place in the universe/to piss, warming my pant leg, my socks,” and it becomes clear that this poet can consider himself animal. These poems are dark, brilliant, rejuvenating meditations. ~Jane Ann Fuller, Half-Life, Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, summer 2021


Highly acclaimed poet Paul Nelson has gifted us with a beautiful love-poem sequence that addresses our times. Yes, each poem expresses love for a physical mess of a rescue Rottweiler, slated to die, named Carbon, the element that Primo Levi reminds us is essential to life. Nelson does not flinch from addressing disaster–violence in nature, the dark prospects of climate change, or the realities of aging. Yet, this book is a Whitmanesque affirmation of life. ~Jeffrey Greene, author of The Golden-Bristled Boar



Double dew-claws, duck walk in the rear,
one too many vertebrae, green teeth and breath
of corpse. He seems to know his name,
by quick pick up, heard once. His bite
so far undershot it is grace that he can eat,
swallows anything whole: toilet paper, paint rags,
a whole green froggie (having eviscerated its squeak).
Baby birds in the grass, legs and feathers, gekkos,
cockroach, gulped. The junk retrieved by a quarter
bottle of peroxide poured down his gullet,
the froggie, the feathered mass regurgitated
onto the clean linoleum. He seems pleased.
Tries to repeat the meal.

I have blamed anything on this lovable mess.
My impatience. My old muscles. My wife’s
amusement and despair.

He has strayed into the life of a sentimentalist,
a poet, liar, from a local Humane Society.
Attendants say he’d been feral for a year, but
he is humane, his head on my foot.
Is devotion always so homely?
Redemption in need of a bath?

He does not resemble luck, discipline,
democracy, intellect or faith.
In fact, he is an atheist. A wanderer
napping on my floor, completely asleep, 1
on a fine, aimless trek, upside down, legs
splayed, trotting in air, femoral heads
like thumbs loose in the sockets.
X-rays don’t lie.

Who could let him be killed
among the others in the camp, to serve
the seven day ritual of Mercy
in the name of Necessity,
and not her hirelings?

Bill Merwin’s notion, that I can’t obey.
I am weak, will keep and think to love him,
perhaps outlive him. These warped, rickety bodies
tend to live longer than standardized dogs.
Carbon is an existentialist, elemental.
And scientists say that people
who have suffered famine
live to remarkable old age. On years of stone soup,
seasoned with blades of grass.
I should diet.

Look …I whisper my sins in his ear
because he doesn’t understand language
as more than music. Even a very few simple
commands with bribes: “Stay”, “Cookie,” “Heel!”,
“Cookie,” or the triangle’s “ting” of a spoon in his dish.
His tunes. His jazz, all improv.

I could go on about Carbon, his underestimation
of obedience training and authority (Make my Day!),
his love of negotiation, as I waste my life
under the bushes of his scrutiny, his perfect nose
and sense of humor, my leg his place in the universe
to piss, warming my pant leg, my socks.




“the broken arches where time suffers”



Horny doves rue and bow;
mynahs hop and screech;
bulbuls whistle. All peck, peck,
but do not tick, or sweat
each dawn, and time doesn’t suffer

us, so I can talk about its passing
like a blood relative, adore or abjure
any last second ether …soul
leaving as cloistered noun,
rising, a weak sigh …and then get up,
wander to the door, look out, sleepily
irked by black opal seeds of papaya,
with orange mush, strewn like nothing
on the concrete, by a neighbor
just in time for the birds’
dive-in cacophony.

By eight I’m out, in my new Nikes,
feeling victorious, but quickly
taken aback by Leilani’s coco thighs,
powering her bike toward Mt. Ka’ala,
past me across the oily, spectral sheen,
the coolant green that glamours the parking lot.
Birds watch.

My dog Carbon trots clumsily to shade, lays down, cooling his hot feet
in damp grass that grows, gets mowed,
grows, gets mowed.

I am better off inside, away from the racket,
Ninja yardmen with steel tines, raking,
raking, screeching on the sidewalk,
clearing away the fallen plumeria blooms
(colorful little propellers), and royal
poinsiana pods, while I unlace my new shoes,
bare my feet …dried squid.

Carbon wants in, will sleep or study
the plump green Madagaskar geckos
that hustle my walls, hunt termites,
gulp their own inchmeal offspring,
ignoring the caravan, the red formic horde
off to build digested hills of tiny beads
from varnished woodwork behind the Sony.

Everything in its own time, they say,
which I can’t keep. Peering out
between the louvres, Leilani
coasts back by, glistening, akimbo,
look-no-hands, dead serious.
There’s water from his stainless bowl,
slopped and frying on the sidewalk.





so I slowly drag him to light and carry him
into the kitchen and put him down on the braided rug
where I think he belongs because I cannot
bear my suffering or the idea that he can let me go
because he is an animal for whom the end of life
is no mystery more than any day’s events

Maybe I don’t even confuse him as he gives in
to my use of force as he would weather weather’s leash
the vet coming with two needles one to make him calm
as if he were needy and the other to stop his heart

not the way he might have wanted there on the dirt
in the gloom beneath the Gravenstein where he has
always buried bones to gather character for another day
were there to be another day.

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