Poem: "Other Nations" by Kate Barnes from Kneeling Orion. © David R. Godine. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
For Maxine Kumin
I used to think women who talked baby talk
to their animals were the rock bottom. Now I'm not
so sure. Now I open my moth
and hear, coming out of it, :Is you
a good, good dog?" words that are falling
in their light, descending order to two pricked ears,
a hairy face, a glowing eye, an unbroken
concentration on the excellent, bone-shaped dog biscuit
I'm holding up, increasing our pleasure
with some slight, prolonging chitchat.
My neighbor Zoë,
at twelve, cries to her cat, "Oh, dearest, darlingest
Wooshiekins!" as she presses extravagant kisses
on the round head of a pale, torpid marmalade
who doesn't seem to mind (but her silent father
gets up and leaves the room).
"They are other nations,"
my own father wrote, "caught with ourselves
in the net of life and time." Of course, he meant
the wild ones, but our household allies, too,
link us to a greater world. We wish
we could speak their languages; and, meanwhile,
they learn ours.
When the rein snaps
while I'm driving home in the buggy, with Blackberry
trotting hard, grabbing the bit, through the rush
of a blustery March day, I don't start hauling
on the other rein and risk tipping us over
or starting a runaway; I call to him loudly,
"wa-alk�wa-alk" and after he does that
he hears me say, "Whoa!" and he does that.
So how can I ever
praise that huge person enough, those twelve hundred pounds
of best behavior who may just have saved
my life? I get out and tie the ends
of the parted rein as he rolls
his questioning eye, and I pat
his strong, damp neck, repeating, over and over,
without thought, a mantra of gratitude to gods
and animals. "Thank you," I say, "thank you,
thank you, kind fate, thank you, my good, good friend!"