Midnight

Country Kitchen in Sayreville sits off I 50,

an isle of green cuts though four lanes

out the window. In 1970 I saw a dead horse

in such an isle only it was winter, Minnesota.

In Sayreville’s new Animal Wellness Center

an hour ago a lady and a guy took dogs

on blue, ribbon-thin, taut leashes through

a door: Princess, Mack and Midnight. Mack

 

the only one who went willingly, three dogs

I had named, counted on me. I’ve taken two

bites from the sausage patty on my plate

of biscuits and gravy. All I see is Midnight,

born from a moment a lab mounted a Saint

Bernard, or visa versa. You came to me

to be saved and I led you to death, turned

you over to the lady, and you looked at me.

 

Kathryn said, Marty, we have to be here,

we couldn’t stay where we were, better here

with the County funding. Yes, it’s climate

controlled. So was Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn

the day I took an oath, April, 1966, to serve

my country. My Princess, Mack, Midnight,

I took an oath and betrayed you, betrayed

myself. Kathryn was there. “We had to do it.”

 

Had to kill off three old ones so there’s room

for the others we brought here, to stay in

cages, with the others, the County dogs.

I’m director of Sayerville Pets in Need. Our

old place, when we had a hard rain, flooded.

Now, this new faculty, winter-warm,

summer-cool, dry. No electric bill to pay.

West Texas, we take care of stray animals.

 

                 (stanza break)

 

I can’t touch the biscuits. I’m thinking of

the dead horse I saw from a Greyhound

outside Mankato. Midnight looked right into

my eyes, not wanting to budge. He knew,

animals know. They can take these biscuits

and gravy to the dumpster out back, a stray

will find some that’s spilled over. A pickup

blows by on I 50, a black lab in its bed.

 

Should be law against that. I should be

with those thee that were mine to keep

till we could adopt them out, they never had

any interest. Three old dogs. It’s as if I’d

stopped my pickup and Midnight ran up,

and I gave him food and water by the side

of the road, and in the cab, shifted into first

telling myself he lives on a nearby ranch.