after Livingston

that August in Livingston,
we meant just me
and the small dog tracing
the bends in the river
into the far edge of afternoon

one of us thinking of rolling
ourselves into the landscape
for keeps just for the peace,
the other enthralled
by sudden bursts of magpies

all these years after,
I never did find the right shade
to fade into and can’t shake
the sense of going the wrong
way against the river now

as if home had quietly
washed itself downstream
and settled on a sandbar –
lopsided and forsaken

© Sarah Whiteley

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an exuberant tail

it kills me
(in the sweetest way)
that she has learned
the sound of the alarm
in the morning means
she can again be loved

and always
the first battle
of my day is one waged
with doggish laughter
wherein I fall casualty
to an exuberant tail

© Sarah Whiteley

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sobaka

the old woman laughs
and leans, with no small effort,
to gleefully scratch the dogs
there, behind the ears,
as if she’s known them always
sobaka, she croons, gap-toothed,
all wisps and grins
sobaka in Russia, she says to me
this tiny woman of fading gray
of tattered blue scarves
and little English
so out of place
and yet somehow not
under the scattering pink petals
of the cherry trees
is teaching me the word for ‘dog’
sobaka, I say smiling
her joy is infectious and full
as if in this moment
eighty years have pulled themselves
away from brittle skin
and the toll of toils
I will never know
to show the wiry girl of old
and all the love she holds
for a stranger’s dogs
this at least, I think,
we have in common
weeks later I see her
after the pink petals have gone
sobaka, I say
as she grins gapingly,
suddenly less wispy and gray,
and says dog

© Sarah Whiteley

The woman in the poem above is real. She is the sweetest, tiniest slip of a Russian grandmother and I want nothing more than to adopt her and call her Babushka. The joy she gets from petting Freyja and Angus is so real and so unbearably sweet, I inevitably find myself smiling as widely as she. We should all be so lucky to find such joy in something so simple.

The tax deadlines are over, and I am on the road back to feeling more human than machine. No more fourteen-hour days now until I get to do this all again in September. I’ll be catching up on some blog reading in the coming days – I’ve very much missed having the time to read so many of you.