He didn't want to tell me. He almost didn't.It was luck much more than gut that made me askA beer opened an hour earlier than usual,the desire for conversation. There was no sense in methat he was in some sort of aftermath.He said, when I asked, I had a bad day,or, I had a weird day, I can't remember.I saw a dog, he said. I was on the train.A man with a dog on a leash. The man ran and made itbut the dog hesitated outside, and the doors closed—no, not on his neck—on the leash, trapping it.The man was inside, and the dog was outside on the platform.The button beside the door, ringed in light, blinked.The man was shouting now, hitting the button,all else silent, the befuddlementof dog pulled along, the pace slow until it wasn't.The tunnel the train must pass through leaving the stationis a perfectly calibrated, unforgiving fit.The dog had a color and a size I don't know,so it comes to me as legion.Large. Small. Fur long, or short. White or gray.But the man always looks the same.As I held him against me in our kitchen,the moment sharpened my eyes. How easilyI could imagine a version of our livesin which he kept all his suffering secret from me.I saw the beer on the counter. I saw myself drink it.When we went to bed, I stared at the back of his headsplit between compassion and fury. My nailsgently scratching up his arm, up and down, up and down,the blade without which the guillotine is nothing.
“The Dog” from JUDAS GOAT: by Gabrielle Bates.
Published by Tin House on January 24, 2023.
Copyright © 2023 by Gabrielle Bates.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Gabrielle Bates is the author of Judas Goat (Tin House, 2023). A Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship finalist, her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Ploughshares, APR, and the Best American Experimental Writing anthology. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she currently lives in Seattle, where she helps out at Open Books: A Poem Emporium and co-hosts the podcast The Poet Salon. You can find her on Twitter (@GabrielleBates) and Instagram (@gabrielle_bates_). www.gabriellebat.es
"These poems are both generous and spare, full of unconventional portraits of longing—for safety, for love, for a motherhood one doesn’t truly desire. Bates is a wise, tender witness to the parts of ourselves we rarely expose."
"The debut’s sequences on mourning, mothers, and marriage consider the ways in which encounters with nonhuman animals reveal the deception, purchase, and stakes of human behavior."
—The Poetry Foundation
"Hypnotic. . . . A deliciously (perhaps devilishly) original book."
"Bates writes every line with fierceness and an unflinching eye for desire and risk, crafting a collection that never has to scream its most powerful lines to embed them in your mind for years to come."
—Chicago Review of Books