...she's tired, and scared, and she's also / mad as hell, /not at my dad, but me--yelling / that she doesn't want to be in this poem / for one more minute...

Tony Hoagland, "My Father Tells Me a Story" from Issue 5

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Dana Roeser

Dana Roeser is the author of three books of poetry: The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed, winner of the Juniper Prize (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014), as well as Beautiful Motion and In the Truth Room, both winners of Morse Prize. She received an NEA fellowship in 2007. Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Green Mountains Review, Sou’wester, Laurel Review, and Verdad.

Announcement: The Theme of Tonight’s Party
Has Been Changed

We switched the theme
               of the party
from Tropical
               Night to
Old Dog Vestibular
               Disease but
didn’t have time
               to get the
word out so
               Porter, Eric,
and a couple
               of students
came in straw hats and
               board shorts, sunglasses
propped on their wiry
               heads.
Willa had a
               grass skirt. The
sick dog was featured
               in a cage
up near the
               front door. She
had finished
               seizing. I saw
to that with
               an “injectable”
of dexamethasone
               wheedled from
Dr. Stroud that
                afternoon. But
she was
               still panting
and listing and
               not allowed
to stand. The guests
               had to maneuver
around her
               to get to
the San Pelegrino, wine,
               and beer. She
barked once,
               sharply, seeing
a person thieving
               from the
cooler.
               The ailment is sometimes
less pejoratively
               called
Canine Vestibular
                Disease. I loved
her for refusing
               to be stashed
in the back
               seat of the Volvo
as she
               usually is
for Don’s visiting
               writer parties. (Many
times, ignored,
               I’ve wished
to hang there
               with her.) For
tonight, insisting
               on putting her (mostly)
mute self
               front and center.
Two
               people
buttonholed me
               drunk. It
took me a minute
               to figure
out that their
               confidently
delivered
               statements
were nonsense. They
               were sentences,
they were on
               topic. With Helene,
it was the light
               gleam of sweat
on her forehead
               her upper lip
her erotic slit-eyed gaze at
               our guest of
honor, which could
               not have been
more inappropriate—
               but this
is the only thing
               some people can
think of in terms
                of poetic
“intensity.” While
                she drank
him in seductively
               tilting her
chin up slightly
                she made
an utterly insipid
                statement
about his use
               of tetrameter (which
he’d already explained
               was deeply
personal—the man
               writes poems
to God!) and
               hers of the
sonnet. SNORE. And
               her students’
resistance to
               the use of form.
Double snore.
               The other
person nailed
                me by the mirror,
kept repeating,
               Sally looks so young!,
referring to
               the dog. I said,
Yeah, well,
               she’s not, and then,
finally,
               I don’t think
we have
               much time left
with her.
               I wanted
to say she
               was recently groomed
at the kennel. That
               she was simply
clean, not
               young. I wanted
to say,
               Look in
her eyes. There’s
                a film, like
iridescence on
               a puddle. She’s practically
blind. Look
               at her hind
legs. They’re
               sticks, constantly
flying akimbo.
               I’ve been those
people. Helene, with
               her head thrown back
to imbibe
               the honoree.
During
                my high-slut
phase, I had
               scant knowledge of
poetry and certainly
                wasn’t teaching
a class. That
                was the only
difference. I hated
               her avaricious
sweaty sexual
               moon face
though.
               Paul, by
the mirror,
                a Crate and Barrel
special, improbably
               decorated
with coat hooks,
                going on about
Sally’s “youthful
                appearance,” wasn’t I him?
Recently? Complaining
               he’d been
passed over for a
               job by
an inside candidate
               who had
no pubs—and then was
               never
notified. I joined in,
                loudly exclaiming
I’d been on unemployment
               a year and
a half, and was
               now, at this point,
an honorary canine.
               I wanted
to think
               of something else, seeing
Willa in her
               grass skirt, besides
the times
               she insulted me
that year
               I held the “visiting
position.” I blocked
               out the day
she kind of
                tried to make
it up to me
               in the Marsh
parking lot. Telling
               me about her
sister, sick
               in Ireland, and her recent
trip to
               Cambodia. Without a
direct apology,
               it didn’t
count.
               She
stuck her foot
               out once at
some reception, in
               front of
a bunch
               of people,
and giggled maliciously
                when I nearly
tripped. Another
               time, she sighed
loudly when
                I turned up
in front of her in
                an auditorium,
as if my height
               was going to be
some kind
               of insurmountable
barrier to her
                view (I kept
thinking, I’m not
               even tall
from the waist up).
               The afternoon
before the party
               I crawled into
the cage
               with Sally
when she
               was violently
shaking.
               I started
giving orders.
                First I got
Don to go
               get the oral
prednisone, and when,
                after a couple
of hours, she still
               did not
improve, and Don
                was no longer
there to help,
               I called around
for the needle. I had
               to leave her at home
in the crate
                for about 15 minutes
to go pick it
                up. Every
second, I thought
                of my ill
father, at
               a similar
stage, with his
                Parkinson’s tremor
and disequilibrium.
               His Sally-like
determination,
               valor, courtesy.
We haven’t
                had to use
the ramp to get
               her up and
down the front
               porch steps
since the
                night of the
party, the night
                of the last
attack. It had been
                hours and I knew
she had to
                pee. I lured
her down the retractable
               ramp with
half a dog
                biscuit in
my free hand and my
               daughter Lucy
guiding her
               feeble rear
end walking down
               the steps at
her side. A few people
               were arriving
and squeezing through
               on what was
left of the stairs—
               to get into
the party where
               the real thing,
whatever that was—
               the greasy
overtures, the
               florid missing-the-
mark red-in-the-face
               remarks,
snubbing
               and being snubbed,
intricate status
               updates
and assessments—
                was going on.
My
               daughter had laid
out the platters.
                Alternating
leaves of radicchio
               and endive around
the rim of
               one, with the bleu cheese
dip forming
                the hubcap. Bowls of
tortilla chips, mounds
               of Milanos. Such
are the reliable
               forms. A white-frosted
cake with our
               visiting poet’s name
written in
                blue script between
red rose blossoms
               on the top. All
things
               requiring a higher
intelligence
               than Sally’s. I walked her
down the street,
               farther and farther from
the house lights,
               into the dampness,
her spirit
               steady, her corporeal
self swinging
               uncertainly
from side
               to side.