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Two poems from Dog Angel

Enter Mecca

Not the center of the Islamic world,
but a sandwich shop across from the red brick towers
of a Southern university. I was nineteen,
an English major, and every day we slouched
toward this Bethlehem of lunch counters,
ordered our BLTs or cheeseburgers
from the black, short-order cook, paid the black cashier,
both dressed in white like house slaves
and not much better paid, though this is 1979
and civil rights marched here a decade earlier.

In the far booth sat Dr. Rubenstein,
famous for a book declaring God was dead.
Now, he taught courses on the Holocaust.
I looked at him and thought--How can a man
study Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Treblinka
every day with no God to pray to
and still eat tuna on whole wheat for lunch?
I had no answer.
I still don’t. Though I have come far enough
from that humid Southern believers’ air
to doubt God’s existence, it’s beyond my powers
to imagine the holocaust that killed him.

When I was a minister’s wife, briefly and too young
in rural Florida, someone shot a dog
and pushed it through the window
of a neighboring town’s church.
There’d been a split in doctrine. Members marched
angrily down the aisle one Sunday and out
into the hot sun and their waiting cars.
The dog crawled the length of the church,
trailing his blood and feces down the aisle,
to die alone, underneath the altar.
Who could do that to an animal,
I asked the God I prayed to then,
just to show how much they hated other humans?

Years after watching Dr. Rubenstein
eat his tuna sandwich, a friend called to say
she’d seen my book in the gift shop
at the Holocaust Museum. She heard my silence,
caught herself, It’s not a gift shop, really.
More a book store. But, really, why should I be shocked
to hear the words “gift shop” and “Holocaust”
in the same sentence? In French, language
I was born to, souvenir means to remember.
And Dr. Rubenstein, wherever you are now,
I promise that I do.

My daughter, struggling through the dyslexia
of kindergarten, once wrote doG loves U
on a Easter card to her grandmother.
Maybe that’s what happened.
They shot Him and pushed Him
through the open window of His own church.
God is dead, but he bled and bled
and did not go easily.
The next time, the angry congregants
were less subtle. They set their church
on fire and burned it to the ground.

God, that Dog Angel, looking down.

What Max, Age Two, Remembers about Spain

The Cave. Also, Big Churches. But mostly

The Cave.

The boy also named Max, also waiting

to see the cave.

The other Max’s father joking (in German) that maybe
there were cave pigs.

There were no pigs. There was a bat.

(in 1905, a farmer looking for guano for fertilizer discovered the cave
and so found something richer than bat dung--tourists)

The old man who owns the cave, who unlocked the iron door, who let
the Maxes in, who lit the lantern so we could see, who locked the door
behind us.

The drawings on the walls--deer, mountains, a (pregnant) horse,
more deer.

Black and red and yellow.

(Also calendars, black hash marks on the wall like those made by prisoners
counting down their days)

In the deepest cave, a big sea fish (though the Mediterranean is fifty
kilometers away across the jagged peaks of the Serrania de Ronda)
and inside the big fish, a small fish, then a smaller fish,

then the smallest fish of all.

That’s me, says Max, pointing to the smallest one.

(Max a fish inside his father’s arms, inside a cave, inside a mountain
in the south of Spain, on the earth, in our solar system, in a galaxy
some astronomer with a sense of humor or of metaphor named
the Milky Way.

That day in Spain, a hash mark on a dark cave wall, a sooty moment
on the calendar where we stood bathed in lantern light in that infinite
balloon of time we insist on calling now.)

In the cave, Max says, even day is night.