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The Story About the Dog

that walked everywhere with a boy who became my father, you’ve heard it—
you’ve heard it all before, the black dog with the rough patch,
brown over his left haunch,
waited on the riverbank as my dad waded in to fish—my dad
still says water is his saving grace, the thing keeping
him here. He lives
on a lake & the smell of water in the air stirred
when his stepfather creaked
the door with his belt. & there’s no sweet song
of a choir, not even on the radio
as the belt comes down on my dad’s
back & the dog growls, takes it on
the hip bone, on his dry nose, against
the bristle of long bared tooth. For hours,
that dog did nothing but watch & wait. I inherited my dad’s
jawline—you know this too.
I like to think I inherited his dog’s jawbone,
when my father cradled that dog
in his arms after a truck
crushed his body, you remember what that dog
did—licked his face, his tears, licked where he’d been hit—before
it died. I want to make something beautiful before I die.
To be that dog—did it even exist? Or was that
one more story
my dad told to make his childhood less terrifying?
A dog belted,
a dog living in my dreams, growing so large he is also
my father.


Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Editions, 2015), and the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, Radar Poetry, PANK, Salt Hill Journal, Thrush Poetry Journal, Word Riot and West Branch, among others. She’s the recipient of a 2017 poetry fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. She’s the editor-in-chief of Wearables and executive director of branded content & professional development at the Advertising Specialty Institute. In 2016, she was named one of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media. Visit her online at www.nicolerollender.com.