American Life in Poetry: Column 291

I have three dogs and they are always insisting on one thing or another. Having a dog is like having a dictator. In this poem by Mark Smith-Soto, who teaches in North Carolina, his dog Chico is very much like my dogs, demanding human company on whatever mission they choose to pursue.

Night Watch

Chico whines, no reason why. Just now walked,
dinner gobbled, head and ears well scratched.
And yet he whines, looking up at me as if confused
at my just sitting here, typing away, while darkness
is stalking the back yard. How can I be so blind,
he wants to know, how sad, how tragic, how I
won’t listen before it is too late. His whines are
refugees from a brain where time and loss have
small dominion, but where the tyranny of now
is absolute. I get up and throw open the kitchen door,
and he disappears down the cement steps, barking
deeper and darker than I remember. I follow
to find him perfectly still in the empty yard –
the two of us in the twilight, standing guard.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Mark Smith-Soto, whose most recent book of poetry is Any Second Now, Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2006. Poem reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 64 & 65, Spring 2009, by permission of Mark Smith-Soto and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.