The first anonymous baying
from those backlit hills petitions a single
greeny-blue winter star.
It silvers as I watch, tuning its sharpness.
Deep January in the natural dark,
and now another to the south is yelping,
Sladesville trying to talk with Prince Valley,
or Corn Hill calling Pond Village across
the cold. This is their time, who have
no heaven unless they create it
with their fierce singing from hogsbacks
and down in the evergreen-lined
pockets of the dark. At such ululating,
even the sea hushes and the landscape
turns black and silver—a negative of the day.
This one now may be saying, I am Magnus
of Crow Hill, and here is my story, or Lilith
from Castle Road may be claiming she raised
that moon that’s just clearing the trees
toward Ballston. Later the owls will take over,
as by woodstoves and under coffee tables
these yodelers and wailers run their legs
in dreams, but it’s sociable for the moment,
contact, contact, a whisker tickling
a crystal of frost, the stars drawing nearer,
a planet turning to listen.
In Galvin’s stark January landscape, a dog’s (or coyote’s) long-distance vocalizing (“Corn Hill calling Pond Village across / the cold”) is a prized survival skill. It takes “fierce singing” there to make art.
Still, despite its vociferous vigor (“baying,” “yelping,” even “ululating”), “Dogs of Truro” never presumes to speak for its human or nonhuman subjects. “Sociable for the moment,” they must otherwise fend for themselves, “yodel” or “wail” their own stories from “hogsbacks” and “pockets of the dark.” And these “first anonymous,” then bolder, canine claims are strangely bolstering, somehow seeming (here “in the natural dark”) more inclusive than quieter lyric or ventriloquy.
Galvin’s poem, it turns out, is not a plea. It’s an uplifted “petition” to the Dog Star (Canis Majoris), to a “planet turning to listen.” To a curious earth.
Brendan Galvin is the author of 18 poetry books, including Egg Island Almanac (2017) and The Air’s Accomplice (2015). His Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965–2005 was a finalist for the National Book Award. He lives and writes at his kitchen table in Truro. “Dogs of Truro,” first published in Habitat, is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Katherine Hazzard selected this poem for the Independent. She lives in Wellfleet.