Poem of the Month: October 2008

killing the dog

Veterinary Surgery
The room smells of our sweat and fear,
as we try to kill a dog that won't die easily,
her body already halfway somewhere else
fights back with a reflex and stubborn defence;
the voiding of her bladder turns cool intention
into recognition of the animalness of death.

My feelings are engaged but
I have moved into a remote watching space
as if making notes for future use.
She lies nose buried in the table and tranquillised,
snoring like a drunk on a summer bench.
Each leg has a small shaved patch and puncture mark
where the vet has already tried and failed,
where blue anaesthetic was pressed into collapsing veins
making bubbles of skin around the entry hole.

The clippers clear the neck of fur for the jugular
which can be seen throbbing beneath the skin.
The needle penetrates but again nothing happens
only her belly going in and out,
the quick panting showing some internal struggle
as blood curls and browns in the hypodermic
like the twist of coloured glass inside a marble.
Then the last resort, a larger needle directly into the heart,
and the vet suggests I leave before this happens.
I've seen so much I did not want to see
that I will not miss the kill.

This works.

With no sound the dog moves from one state to another,
my hand still resting on her stomach.
I say goodbye and leave the room
in a clumsy mime of grief and loss.
The vet is already swabbing the table
in economic movements,
brisk, efficient and final.

© James M Nash [Deadly Sensitive, 1999]

Hear me read Killing the Dog in October's podcast.