Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lost Dog

Author's note: This begins an occasional series on works by some of the authors in our book (Animal Companions, Animal Doctors, Animal People) – a wonderful, amazingly diverse and interesting crowd (read about them here).

Lost. Shetland sheepdog (female).
Disappeared Thursday from Linville
Creek Rd.
No animal lover sees a flyer like that on a neighborhood telephone pole without a pang. Every animal owner, I suspect, has an abiding dread that someday the picture and name on the sign might be your pet’s own. In her chapbook, Looking for Ceilidh, Kathryn Kirkpatrick takes us on a – I’ll use the word I normally dislike because it fits here – journey that none of us wants to take. But in Kirkpatrick’s fourteen page poem, although Ceilidh is lost, much is found.
First, if you’re like me, you won’t want to read the poem, or even read about it, if the ending is in doubt. It’s not – the wandering Ceilidh (pronounced KAY-LEE, as Kirkpatrick puts on the sign, so neighbors calling the name will get it right) will, in time, be found.
At the start, we find Kirkpatrick as lost as her dog, more than distraught: stunned at the intensity of her own reaction, “this wild wheeling/toward the porchlit door/as if each scrape and rustle/might save a life.”
The disappearance had begun with a bark from a neighbor’s dog, with Ceilidh drawn not so much by the handsome yellow lab as by “the call itself” – and there Kirkpatrick reminds us of one of the root paradoxes of every dog-human relationship, a wild call we humans both fear, and revere.
As Kirkpatrick goes from house to house, knocking on doors she’s never entered, seeing the faces of neighbors she’s never noticed, she now sees each one, almost with a note of surprise, as a distinct person, with a name, a life, and, in most cases, the instinct to help.
   …Carol works part-time
   at the elementary school.
   Sara turns porcelain pots
   on her wheel. Have you tried
   the field across Linville Creek?
   Faith asks if I’ve eaten.
   What about the ridge?
But there’s also “something besides love and grace”. Found too, in the hellbent course, is the menace in the near and familiar – Anne’s spaniel who “came home with a bullet in its leg”; the warning from a hard-bitten neighbor of what can befall “a fancy dog” in these dirt-poor Appalachian hollers.
Throughout these pages, our breath is held along with Kirkpatrick’s, and so it is also released on the next to last page, where she finds Ceilidh,
   with a lab, black this time,
   a female her own size,
   a friend.
               And having found
   the things she needs, food and company,
   she greets me like a dog who’s not done

Well, of course. She was only being a dog, our Ceilidh…

   …who led me
   to these opened doors of my own neighborhood,
   who stands here now as if at the end
   of a friendly social visit,
   ready to go home.

I don’t want to overstate what’s done in this fourteen page poem, but it did follow the line, in miniature, of a classic search myth. It brought back bedtime stories that you read for the pleasure of being scared while knowing that at the end you’ll wind up home (sorry, Kathryn; you didn’t know that when you lived it), and Irish poems (although “Ceilidh” is Scotch, for shindig) where Crazy Jane, or Aengus, wanders the hills, and creatures turn into fairy forms, and back to themselves.
But mostly, it reminded me of my own lost lost dog stories, the ones I never thought to write, too fraught with panic even years later, even though they all had happy endings. Like Archie (“oh? the little black and white dog is yours? He’s been at our party all day!”), besotted with beer, staggering out of the woods, having eaten and drunk for hours (9-1/2), played and panted, and had the time of his life. And the time we found him up on his haunches, all 22 terrier inches of him barking at the two Great Danes behind the neighbor’s glass front door…
I hope your lost dog stories have had happy endings, but I know that many don’t, and for those I am sorry. As painful as any final parting with a beloved animal is, how much more so the separation that comes out of the blue, and leaves us endlessly looking.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick is the author of the poem “Creature” in our anthology, Animal Companions, Animal Doctors, Animal People. She teaches poetry, Irish studies, and environmental literature at Appalachian State University.  Her class, Representing Animals, explores the uses humans make of animals as cultural symbols and the various consequences for animals, both positive and negative, of anthropomorphizing them. She is the author of five poetry collections, The Body’s Horizon (1996), Beyond Reason (2004), Out of the Garden (2007), Unaccountable Weather (2011), and Our Held Animal Breath (forthcoming 2012).  Her website is
Send order inquiries for Looking for Ceilidh to Kathryn's email.