Thursday, 11 March 2021

who laps water with their tongue, who kneels down to drink

You will not know me. You will not see me. You will not know me. The small matted dog, its tail curled under. Its lips curled back. Of the pack, not for the pack. Characterless and unrecognisable. A form with no features. My ears flattened to my head. The dirt yellowed dog. I raise my muzzle. Your gaze avoids me. I followed the camp of your ancestors. I subsist at the distance of a stone’s throw. I shiver. I yelp. I whine. I am submissive and I am evasive. I am comedy. My advance is now timid, later bold. I am pure hunger. But appetite must also wrestle fear. I am cleaved in two. Both scavenged and scavenger. I am one with the living refuse circling the bounds of your world. And you. You have rained down upon me the stones you find beneath your feet. But by the time you look up with another in your hand I have moved. I stand my ground beneath your stones. Know me as pariah, faithful to the shallow grave of my murdered master. Or, know me, the fanged ghoul at bay above the buried kill. My body flinches but does not flee. You have poured blame like libation upon me. You have mended your fences against me. I am still here, at the same distance. I dwell upon unhallowed ground. If you can, imagine now a creature feeding at its own wound. I am thrown forward by hunger and back by injury. I see my flesh, I devour it. I feel my teeth, I shrink from them. My bite rising, tangled with my pain. Just now you caught a glimpse of me as revenant, its shadow thrown monstrously, of something left out of what you have done, your well-maintained interior - its hinted mayhem. I am what is left over from the belonging of the others to their world.  But you cannot turn your gaze upon me. I dwell in the corner of your seeing. I desire my own taming. This night I was drawn towards the heart of your world. It was the season of your local festivities, which now are almost ending. You are laughing with others who will soon be going to their beds. You laugh like an enemy, like someone who dies unexpectedly in another’s story. There is something about where I am situated, relative to you, levering your aversion. Now, you are waiting in a patch of light at the edge of the settlement, beneath the string of swaying lanterns. It is as if you are about to leave the camp for the last time, and abandon yourself finally to the desert and to the night. But there is something else, a sort of feint or stratagem in your stance, there is something all too doglike in your slinking which disturbs my awareness just enough for me not to look closer. You are heading away but gazing back. You are looking over your shoulder, your ears back, the lips of your narrow muzzle tight in a grin of small teeth. You are watching for my move, looking back over your shoulder, as if you are leaving, but your attention fixed on a matchbox-sized thing, discarded under one of the long tables, and for which you might risk a sudden return. The comet of the village celebration has entered the midnight of its long tail. Might you rush forward and take it? Wanting it without knowing what it is. Wanting to take it, if only because it is in my place? You will try to take it or you will not.  You will stay just long enough in the lanterns’ light, swaying, flickering in the breeze before dawn. You will stay there just long enough for me to think I know where you are. And if I keep you off today, then something like you on another day will cross the clearing of the eternal camp and it will carry off what I had thought belongs to me, and I will chase it into the darkness over the uneven ground. And every time I stumble in my hopeless pursuit I will look back over my shoulder at the lanterns of the settlement, just as you are looking back at me now. I will stand where you have stood, amazed at my own defeat, ‘how did I get from there to here?’ And those who stand where I stand now, those who will soon be going to their beds, will look out at me for the last time, even as I vanish from their world, and they will see nothing but a small dog, matted and unrecognisable.