Teaching an Old Dog

By 
Michelle Barker

Every afternoon my dog
takes me for a walk.

We begin by getting
very excited

running circles of gratitude in the hallway
for the mere idea of walking.

Once outside, she makes me practice
my lessons.

Run as fast as you can
for no reason.

Chase things you have
no hope of catching.

Forego straight lines.

Step in every puddle.

Listen.

Here, she says, here
a deer has passed.

She is patient with me,
points with her snout

urges me to get on my knees
and smell for myself

but I don’t, of course,
because I am an old dog

and there’s a limit
to what I can learn.

Sometimes she runs ahead
then stops in the middle of the road
and turns to watch me.

This is a test.

You’re composing poetry
in your head, she’ll say.

You’re rehearsing conversations
that will never take place.

And I catch myself
and remember the best trick
she’s taught me yet—

to walk
as if every part of me
was listening to God.

Michelle Barker lives in Hatley, Quebec, with her family and an assortment of animals (including, of course, her dog). Her poetry has appeared in several literary magazines.  She has also published short fiction and non-fiction, and received a National Magazine Award for personal journalism.

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