By Terry McDonagh
I am Cassie
It seems like only yesterday
a dark beast lurked
under my skin, but now
that I’ve found a family
I don’t have to be afraid anymore.
They wait by the gate
looking puzzled when panic
hidden in my bones
twitches like forgotten history.
I am a dog – only a dog and know
that’s what they want me to be.
I don’t have to write, juggle words
or read fairy tales to young ones.
They’re not scared of me – don’t
have to be. I learned not to bark
in my previous home where I was
beaten for being dog and dumped.
Sometimes when I wake in a mess of sweat,
I imagine I have another name – not Cassie.
I try not to peep over my shoulder into the past.
Mornings about eleven we go walking,
languishing along lanes
saturated in marvels – mainly
but it can be testing when
walkers wallow in wind-chill-chat,
sources of sciatica, or central heating oil.
I try never to grumble, be contrary
or get above my station. Maybe
that’s just me but, by the same token,
dreaming of rounding up sheep
is one thing.
Singing for supper – that’s another.
During these challenging gossip-stops
I duck and secrete in the long grass
to avoid clashes with canine cousin and kin
who seem to know little of phantom fears.
It makes me sick having to listen
to fellow-dogs rabbiting on
about table-leg pickings and crumbs
as their keepers pamper in tea and plenty.
Given all that, in a far distance
I still hear, taste and shrink
from the malice of gore
no creature should have to endure.
These days I indulge in the sound
of food on my plate – in
the flavour and twinkle of candles –
as I ride out to sleep.
I have a blanket
in one corner and a rug in another
where I can sink into miles of dog saga.
My head is up and trained on the horizon.
The past with its clanking chains is past.
Nothing is as it Seems
I’m only a dog but I see what I see
and hear what I hear
from my very own space
under stars, tables or starter’s orders.
I do try to be in tune
with the chimes of our planet.
I could be losing compassion
but some adults roll out
such bizarre rhetoric
they seem to be out of touch.
Lose me, they do – going on
about education and politics
in that relentless, encore way
when their pool of arty banter
deserts them –
when silence seems unbearable.
I see children and teachers
trundle off each morning
heading for artful pollen fields.
Noble thoughts about school
often seem out of bounds – a bit
like a love-affair with a mink coat,
being happy in hospital or
exposing your fantasies in church.
I’m jealous: my hope of dog-school
– I’m more dog
– at back door type
– or dog in photo
unless, of course, a thoughtful pupil
smuggles me in or a sensitive teacher
appreciates the role of a border collie
when skirmishes are about to blow up.
I was rescued by ISPCA – caring people.
I got fed, could stretch my legs and learn
to open my arms to welcome a new family.
At times, when contemplating my past,
I vanish into a grey cloud,
rattle like a poltergeist
or rip at beech-tree-bark and howl.
I often lie there thinking
nothing is as it seems.
Even if I can’t read or write
I can imagine sun flooding a page,
an armchair out on high waves,
a mouse whistling in an attic
or I can tune in to the true note
in a creature heart.
These three poems are written from the perspective of Cassie in Mayo. The whole collection is really just one poem in six sections – three allocated to Cassie’s point of view and three to mine.
Lady Cassie Peregrina is the title of my latest poetry collection published in September 2016. The book is based on our experiences with Cassie, a border collie we got from an ISPCA centre in Ireland. We, Joanna, Matthew, Cassie and I, shared life for nine months in County Mayo in 2013, then headed for Hamburg by car via Belfast, Scotland, Newcastle, Amsterdam and, finally, Hamburg.
Terry McDonagh www.terry-mcdonagh.com has taught creative writing at the University of Hamburg and was Drama Director at the International School Hamburg for 15 years. He has held residencies in Europe, Asia and Australia. Publications include 8 poetry collections as well as letters and prose poetry; translation into Indonesian and German.
Echolocation, poetry for young people, 2015. Autumn 2016, Lady Cassie Peregrina – Arlen House. His poem, Out of the Dying Pan into the Pyre, was long-listed for the Poetry Society Poetry Prize 2015. Included in the forthcoming Gill & McMillan poetry anthology for young people 2016. With dramatist, Joachim Matschoss, he has set up WordPlay – a writing/drama programme.