Elegy of the Flowing Touch

Almost anywhere there’s a poem lying around
Waiting for someone to lift it up, dust it off,

For instance, the argument with a neighbour
About a large dog: was it a German Shepherd

Or a mutt? Would it jump into the sea hereabouts
To save a child, if a child went overboard?

The argument was conducted in civilized terms,
But we stood in the street, there were distractions,

In spite of which we both felt for the crux:
Does a dog have a will capable of the Good?

Insistent as I was that, however eagerly it swam
Toward the child, a mutt, being untrained,

Might forget the good it had set out to do,
I was brooding on something else – the dignity

Of the dog, whatever it was, standing as we had seen it
There on the prow of a small rubber boat;

That figurehead of a dog, did it know
How dignified it might look to the likes of us?

Who cared if it jumped into the water?
Who cared if it collared a floundering child?

And under the brooding lurked, not yet material,
A poem scheming to coax into focus a local image –

Ten dinghies fluttering tiny peppermint sails,
Each dinghy a nest with two children in it,

Strung out on a cord behind the rubber mother boat,
All the children laughing, waving, and feeling free,

The bursts of song from the children’s throats,
And before them, gold against an oceanic blue,

The figurehead dog, ears pinned back by the wind,
His attention to it all, and a great joy in his jowls.

Even then, the scene: and the poem would pivot
On breathlessness, a moment of suspense.

How, it would say, as the procession of dinghies
Headed away from the coast and out to sea,

Either their voices had passed out of earshot,
Or else the children were learning fear.

The silence now as they skim over the water.
The blue of a ravening deep underneath them.

from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2008), copyright © Christopher Middleton 2000, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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