American Life in Poetry: Column 314

Maybe you have to be a poet to get away with sniffing the paws of a dog, and I have sniffed the paws of all of mine, which almost always smell like hayfields in sunlight. Here Jane Varley, who lives in Ohio, offers us a touching last moment with a dear friend.

Packing the Car for Our Western Camping Trip
What we will remember – we tried to take the dog,
packed around him, making a cozy spot
at the back of the Subaru, blocking out the sun,
resisting the obvious –
he was too old, he would not make it.
And when he died in Minnesota,
we smelled and smelled his paws,
arthritic and untouchable these last many years,
took those marvelous paws up into our faces.
They smelled of dark clay
and sweet flower bloom decay.

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 Jane Varley, whose most recent book is a memoir, Flood Stage and Rising, University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Poem reprinted from Poems & Plays, No. 16, 2009, by permission of Jane Varley and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2011 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.