My family adopted Qora from the SPCA three and a half years ago. Qora sleeps at least fifteen hours a day, loves peanut butter and most any foods except vegetables, and can’t fetch a ball to save her life. A few months after Qora came into our home, she became more fearful of the world around her, barking at small noises and snapping her teeth at intimidating dogs. Getting Qora to walk down the street became a major endeavor, as she tugged back home at the slightest irregular sound or sight: a garage door opening, a stranger standing on a street corner or walking toward her, a car beeping. My dad often had to carry her, a trembling fifty-pound mass, until she relaxed enough to go on her walk. With time, we developed a routine, with walks to the garden and twice-weekly trips to Marshall Beach, that has made caring for Qora less challenging.
Recently, Leslie Beach came to CW to teach a two-week course on animal writing. We analyzed poems, essays, songs, and videos, discussing the devices the artists used to depict animals. Each of us chose an animal to observe and write about for the two-week period, from housecats to wild geese to a panda live streamed from a zoo camera. I decided to write about Qora. For a persona poem assignment, I found myself diving into my dog’s insecurities in a monologue from her perspective:
Smells and Skateboards
I don’t like it when Nadja watches me eat. Aw man, there’s no more kibble in this kong! Hm, what to do next, what to do… how ‘bout a nap? Why is Nadja following me? Hey! I need some alone time! What? I don’t care if it’s for a homework assignment.
The carpet smells like soggy crackers… oh, a treat, yum!
You ever think there’s a whole world out there? So many tennis balls, and ocean waves, and cheesesteaks! And I’m just stuck in this house with the same old smells.
The heating vent in the hallway carries the smell of the purple-haired lady from upstairs: coconut shampoo, juicy roast chicken, and hardwood, tinged with beer when her niece throws Friday night parties. The sour stench of mouse droppings seeps in through the cracks in the back door. I find that same smell in the parched grasses above the beach where little flitting furry creatures escape my paws. The kitchen is like the sun of smells, sending aromatic rays down the hallway and into each room of the house, infused with the humans’ wonderful concoctions: toasted sourdough with butter, lamb stew, peanuts, fried eggs, spaghetti… none of which I’m allowed to eat.
Aw man, I have the hiccups.
What’s that sound? A skateboarder? How dare he come near this block! Who does he think he is… I’ll show him who’s boss! Yeah, that’s right, run away, you scaredy cat. Don’t even think of touching my territory again. You hear me? Huh, you hear me?
Oh. It was just a stroller. No skateboard, false alarm. Sorry!
It’s OK… it’s OK, Qora… it’s OK, relax.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, there’s a whole world out there, with squirrels I can never seem to catch, and pizza rinds hiding under rosemary bushes. I want to go farther, unclipped from my blue captivity rope; I want to run and gallop! But um… not now, maybe later? Someday, I’ll explore the corners of the world. I’ll swim to a remote island where bacon hangs from trees, and I’ll climb to the top of a mountain and lick the cotton candy clouds.
But… here’s a secret that no one knows: I’m afraid. It’s a delicious world, but also a scary one, with big dogs who amble down the middle of the sidewalk like beasts, and tiny yappy dogs with spiky teeth, and monstrous cars, and strange people who yell strange things, and skateboarders. I have nightmares about skateboarders sometimes, their wheels rumbling against concrete, roaring, as they come closer and closer, so close I can smell their sweat, hear them screech into my ear, and my fur stands up, my arms quiver, I open my mouth to bark and nothing comes out. Before they can attack me, I wake with my paws twitching and my tail between my legs.
So, I suppose the beach, the park, and the house are enough for now. The beach with sea foam to chase, with Nadja to throw me a stick. The park with hidden food and an explosion of smells. And the house, with the occasional spilled almond, with kibble-filled kongs, with my family who pets me, Nadja who tries to write from my perspective, and this couch where I can take a nap, this soft, soft couch, this warm couch…
Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021