It’s been a cruel summer for many of us with some of the hottest days we’ve ever seen. And things aren’t cooling down anytime soon.
Early to mid-August is often associated with sultry weather, drought, thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, and mad dogs. Or, in the words of Meena Alexander’s poem, “Dog Days of Summer,” it’s the time when “muslin curls on its own / heat / And crickets cry in the black walnut tree.” To help get us all through this swelter, our editors have scoped out some of the hottest new not-to-be-missed poems of the season. And, yes, there will be dogs.
Honestly, any excuse for more poems about dogs. We certainly found some excellent ones to share with you — count them — six sizzling poems this time from Radar Poetry, The American Journal of Poetry, Burningword Literary Journal, Harvard Review Online, and Poem-a-Day. Enjoy!
The moon was larger then, it seemed, filling the yard with a clean light uncommon in the oppressive depths of August. There’s no licking now, nothing wakes me before time; I sleep through the night, and wish there was some peace in it.
by Jeff Ewing in Radar Poetry
For anyone who’s ever loved a dog, Jeff Ewing’s fine and tender poem “Mutt” will quietly sneak up and break your heart in the most beautiful way. We’re still crying. Read. It.
Heaven is still
a wiffleball game that doesn’t end at nightfall.
Or maybe it’s just knowing
that the game is going on out there in the backyard somewhere,
as we sit together in our lounge chairs
inside, reading magazines by lamplight
with the stupid dogs slobbering at our feet.
by Samuel Cheney in The American Journal of Poetry
Here, the narrator belies his apparent annoyance with the dogs in the poem, which he describes as “slobbering at our feet,” since these same “stupid dogs” ironically figure prominently in the narrator’s idea of Heaven. Dogs would be in our Heaven too. This poem pulses with life and longing and vibrant images that are a celebration of summer, love, and the kind of grief that comes when the “Audubons have all lost their fuzzy fledging feathers” and Rainbow Snow shuts down, leaving us with the “neon puddle of a snowcone.” I mean, we’ve all wanted our beloved to “Give me a sign. / Remember me. / Flicker your bedroom lights one last time.”
Things look so much better in the subaqueous glow of the bar on a third glass of wine
I love the world most when I can barely make out what’s going on out there
The little dog down at the edge of the pond might be licking that baby
or eating it
Even the grownups are scary, gazing out over the water
toward the dispirited trees & the invisible source of the light
by Kim Addonizio in The American Journal of Poetry
Like the poem’s narrator, we are unsure of what to make of the little dog in this stunning piece by our upcoming Emerging Poet Prize final judge Kim Addonizio. The poem definitely takes a sinister turn, or at least reveals the frightening possibilities, in this electric moment where anything could happen. Be sure to follow the hyperlink to read the whole thing over at The American Journal of Poetry. How that last stanza reverberates and hangs in the air.
I don’t know why these German boys and girls are so happy.
The kibbutz hot and dusty and dry.
The swimming pool empty and baking like a molten crater.
At night the dogs go mad,
kicking up hollering clouds
as they try to rip each other’s throats.
from “Hans in Haifa”
by Penny Jackson in Burningword Literary Journal
This powerful poem has everything we were looking for – and so much more. There are mad dogs in a kibbutz so hot and dry that the swimming pool is “baking like a molten crater.” No wonder the dogs are at each other’s throats. In all seriousness, you need to go read this poem right now. Another gut punch of an ending. It will haunt you.
Sometimes I remember
The yellow dog I had when I was a kid
How he was taller than me when he got up on his hind legs
How handsome he was
I remember him running off
Then coming home with a rabbit in his mouth
We ate everything he caught for us.
by Tian Yuan. Translated by David Boyd in Harvard Review Online
Trigger Warning: Things don’t end well for the yellow dog. This deeply layered, exquisite poem spans not only seasons and the passing of time, but also lifetimes, acknowledging the interconnectedness of everything; honoring water, glaciers, plant, insect, and animal life and how we as humans fit into the scheme of it – how all animals, human and otherwise, continue to love and hurt each other.
No one can forget us,
we bear our teeth.
We pass through bodies
like summer heat. We eat
and thicken, worry men.
They plead and suffer, come again.
by Remica Bingham-Risher in Poem-a-Day
Our final offering doesn’t have an explicit dog reference but, my God, this poem is lightning and wildfire. The poem itself is part feral in the best way – fiercely beautiful and unforgettable, showing its teeth in the “summer heat.”