Poetry  May 2017 | issue 497

Ghost Dogs

by Dion O'Reilly

DION O’REILLY has spent much of her life in the company of cows, horses, pigs, goats, a baleful Amazonian parrot, and many enormous dogs. As a child she would nap with her favorite pig and is infamous in her family for refusing to leave the pigpen to kiss her grandmother goodbye. She lives in Soquel, California.

Two hundred pounds apiece,
with strong bodies, great black heads, and
sad, sagging faces, they were my companions
through the long years of childhood.
Mastiffs. Herds of them — studs,
a handful of bitches, scores of puppies.
Bored, in dusty clumps, they guarded the driveway,
pulling themselves up onto oversized, padded feet
to trail my horse through the hills,
then — with surprising speed — racing
up steep deer trails in the futile
pursuit of coyotes or bobcats.
My friends risked stitches in the skin
of their thighs by knocking at the door, and
when the proud cars of boyfriends pulled up —
a gleaming ’68 Camaro, a convertible Bel Air —
the pack ambushed them,
ferocious black muzzles breathing steam and
drooling on the windows.
Some of my visitors departed quickly.
Now, years after leaving home,
I miss the dogs,
how formidable they were,
negotiating between me
and the world. I have
no coiled animal to summon
to my side, touch lightly
on the wrinkled brow;
no silent creature following me,
ready to die for me.