by Tony Hoagland
Who knew that the sweetest pleasure of my fifty-eighth year
would turn out to be my friendship with the dog?
That his trembling, bowlegged bliss at seeing me stand there with the leash
would give me a feeling I had sought throughout my life?
Now I understand those old ladies walking
their Chihuahuas in the dusk, plastic bag wrapped around one hand,
content with a companionship that, whatever
else you think of it, is totally reliable.
And in the evening, at cocktail hour,
I think tenderly of them
in all of those apartments on the fourteenth floor
holding out a little hotdog on a toothpick
to bestow a luxury on a friend
who knows more about uncomplicated pleasure
than any famous lobbyist for the mortal condition.
These barricades and bulwarks against human loneliness,
they used to fill me with disdain,
but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
could be so easily met
by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
and a tail like a windshield wiper.
I did not guess that love would be returned to me
as simply as a stick returned when it was thrown
again and again and again—
in fact, I still don’t exactly comprehend.
What could that possibly have to teach me
about being human?