“The Dogs in Poetry, Cats and the Others in Prose”

by Abigail Coker  ·  April 27, 2016

dog-1121472_960_720The revenant of Billy Collins‘s world is the bitter family dog whose been put to sleep. Featured in Five Points Vol. 8, No. 2, the voice of his poem entitled “The Revenant” is so richly comical and full of spite that I find myself searching the brown depths of my own dog’s eyes, looking for a sign that I scratch her in the right spot and don’t insult her with a soft handshake. Collins is the master of all things comical and profound, and he packs a lot of weight into the vengeful confessions of this deceased dog. He mocks our absurdly manicured lawns, our pets’ hideous monogrammed sweaters, and our pitiful lack of grace. He urges that there is so much to learn from the animal nature of dogs. He reminds us that they require little more than food and fresh water in metal bowls and resent our tokens of affection: collars, rubber toys, and even car rides. In a world beyond things, dogs raise their collarless heads and howl in admirable abandon. We sit on the margins of heaven with the cats and wonder how they write such wild poetry.

The Revenant

By: Billy Collins

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you—not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and—greatest of insults—shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner—
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.