Chet Baker’s Dog

The pet he left behind in a mid-west hotel

prisoners dragged out randomly at night, to be tortured

every misery in the world collects
in a sticky pool
losses drip down

my father’s birthday tomorrow
(no celebration this year)

the poem I wanted to write earlier today,
about cherries and virginity,
clever as dark glasses hiding puffy eyes

Surely a chambermaid pitied Chet’s dog,
took him in, loved him

not like Laika left in space until she died, alone

this is not about pets or fruit
leave all that and sit with the sorrow

my mother fattened herself on this brand of
loneliness: big bowls of whipped cream after school

dust in my garden
tomatoes still green, even though it’s August

the child my body never gave me
(who pulled that string?)
and then there’s the dog again;
it cries, it scratches.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Chet Baker’s Dog”?

In November 1996, my father took his gun, walked towards the bush at the south end of his farm and shot himself. In the months after that event, I wrote a lot of poems, most of them unpublishable, about how I was feeling. How does one transform the abject self-pity I was experiencing into a piece that would engage a reader?

Then in May, 1997, I heard a radio documentary about Chet Baker in which they mentioned that he’d grown tired of his dog, so he just left her behind in a hotel room when he was on tour in the American mid-west. That image bothered me until August, 1997, when I wrote the poem. The metaphor of a drug addict that cares only about himself and his next fix was a perfect one for the suicidal who eventually care only about themselves. And I, the grieving daughter, was the dog who never really understands what’s going on, but is 100% feeling (it cries, it scratches).

What poetic techniques did you use in “Chet Baker’s Dog”?

I originally titled the poem, “Metaphors (Chet Baker’s Dog),” because the poem is full of metaphors:

Metaphorical situation: prisoners dragged out randomly at night and tortured.

Metaphors of death: tomatoes still green; dust in my garden (water in dreams is often a sign of the subconscious; therefore a lack of water = death of the spirit).

Metaphors of menstruation (the monthly death): sticky pool; who pulled that string (on the surface, this is a puppet’s string; beneath the surface, it’s a tampon).

Poem ends with sounds (it cries, it scratches); it’s very important for the emotional journey in the poem that some sounds are made at the end. It’s a sign of life and a struggle against absolute silence.

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