Barking Dog by John Engels


From down the road and near the landlord’s house

his terrible dog, whose fierce and guardian voice

kept us all close upon our boundaries,


warmed up with a few preliminary snarls,

then barked, savage, incurious, and untiring

the whole night: two sharp yelps, a pause,

and then unvarying two more--nor could I sleep.

Therefore, though I disliked at night

to walk through my over-dark and speechless house


where I must pass a room in which lurked

some uncommon terror that once

had come to someone who lived in my house

there in that room, and died; and then to walk

along the cold, light-feeding road;

nevertheless I ventured out


into the dog-voiced night, angry to be afraid,

when just at the corner of our properties

the world fell silent, and a great black dog

charged across the yard. He was silent,

he seemed not tentative, he carried

his head low. Of all the dread forms,


most I dreaded that! Slowly I backed away

afraid to turn, our eyes on one another’s, till

I thought I might be safe, and flung about and ran.

Thank God he did not follow, only

all night ranged the bench marks of our yards

and barked, and barked. This happened long ago


when I was wary of malice, large and small,

convinced, though nothing could I see, that I was seen,

and had not journeyed far in understanding

whichever way I turned was always something

at my back. How was it they who lived

along the landlord’s road and in his house


had borne it that long while, that voice

which overwhelmed the world,

strict of measure and extensive of dominion,

and they lived nearer than ever I lived? Thus

in the large world peace has not yet visited!

For his voice which troubled me was strong and large,


and carried far, and nothing drowned it out;

for so was set his measure in my head.

From “Cardinals in the Ice Age” by John Engels (Graywolf Press: $8; 79 pp., paperback). This collection of poems was selected by Philip Levine as one of the five winners of the 1987 National Poetry Series. “Cardinals” is Engel’s sixth book of poetry. His earlier titles include “Vivaldi in the Early Fall” and “Weather--Fear: New and Selected Poems,” for which he received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Engels has been the recipient of a Fulbright award as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He currently teaches at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.