Doggerel: A Day in the Park

Sparky was the first to notice.

He’s a Jack Russell, excitable,

seems to have two or three legs

off the ground most of the time.

His head was down, all casual sniffs,

as he walked toward me, touched me with his nose.

“Seen Paul?” he said from the side of his mouth.

“P.E., for sure.”

I looked around, didn’t see Paul.

“P.E.?” I asked.

“Dog, you seen his tail lately?” Sparky asked.

Paul’s tail lies in a tight curl against his back.

“Straight up. Erect,” Sparky said. “P.E.”

“P.E.?” I asked again.

“Canine, where you been? Poodle Envy.

It’s goin’ around like parvo.”

“Woof,” I said. “Now that you mention it,

you think Frank got a perm?”

“I thought he looked different,” Sparky said.

“Thought he got a new collar or something,

but when I asked him, he got all head-tossy

and said, Noooo, it’s natural.”

Sparky scratched his neck, then his ear.

“Seen Ginger anywhere?” he asked, blasé.

Ginger’s a chow, gorgeous cinnamon hair —

don’t get me started on that tongue.

She and Sparky are on-again, off-again,

though he tries to act indifferent.

“Oh, Sparks, haven’t you heard?”

“Heard? Heard what? What happened?

Oh God, not a car. Not Ginger.”

I shook my head.

“It’s the bag carriers, isn’t it?

What’d they do? Where is she?”

“You better sit down, dog.”

“What? What?”

“They took her to the salon, Sparks,

gave her the poodle do, the full Gigi. You know,

head like a lion, little ankle puffs, pompom tail

and the rest shaved. She’s got a nice little body

without all that fur.”

Sparky snarled, showed his teeth.

“Sorry, dog. That was out of line.

She was at the park yesterday,

wouldn’t come out of the bushes,

pretended not to see me. I felt bad,

you know, embarrassed for her.”

“Damn!” Sparky barked. “Damn! Damn!”

He had that wild-eyed, bite-something look.

“I warned her,” he said. “Told her to run away.

Those kibble-headed jerks are no good.

She’d just give me the look, the tongue thing.

I don’t know, maybe she’s not as smart as I thought.”

“Doggone, Sparks, you can’t blame her for this.

It’s not her fault. It’s not like . . .”

But Sparky had raced away

and was barking his jack head off

at a big brown spaniel.

Sparky’s been jealous of Grover for a long time,

and now he saw that curly spaniel hair and pictured

Grover and Ginger all poodled up together.

Grover stood there like a buffalo, not moving a whisker,

and finally Sparky heeled to his senses,

gave Grover a couple of perfunctory sniffs

and walked back toward me,

making a few sprinkle stops along the way.

“Sorry, dog,” he said.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said.

“P.E. thing’s gone too far,” Sparky said.

He was right. Park is crawling

with doodles and poos.

“Corgipoos! Yorkipoos! Peke-A-Poos!” Sparky growled.

Not to mention Jack-A-Poos, I thought.

“Saint Berdoodle, throw me a bone,” Sparky said.

“But Ginger! How could they?”

“And speak of the devil dog,” I said.

“Here comes monsieur bone-jure himself.”

“Fran-swah!” Sparky yipped. “How’s fleas, Franko?”

A standard schnauzer twice Sparky’s size,

Frank had taken to wearing a beret,

then calling himself François.

Now his beard was shaved and the top of his head

sported a puppy-sized pile of silver curls.

Frank seemed to be mincing along on his toes.

“Poodophobe,” he said in a whisper.

“Franko, my dog, sit and stay,” Sparky said,

“You know that some of my best friends . . .”

“Save it, chow hound,” Frank snapped back,

a low blow. But Sparky wouldn’t fetch —

just sniffed Frank in the usual places.

“So listen, um, François,” I said,

“what’s the real story here?

I mean, you’re a handsome fellow,

in your own way. Why be

a poodle wannabe?”

Frank sat, demure, front feet together.

Staring at the ground, he said, “Smart.

Elegant. Dignified.” He stood up,

walked away, turned back, “Popular.”

“Don’t shed,” Sparky sniffed.

Nobody said anything.

Suddenly, thunderous barking from

the far side of the park, dozens of dogs.

Then silence.

“Son of a bitch,” Sparky said.

“Dog my cats,” Frank added.

Hot diggity, I thought.

Brad and Angelina were walking side by side

across the soccer field. You could have heard

a tick’s heartbeat. They were perfect. Ideal.

Her four long, slender legs, her thick honey-brown hair,

his golden blond, a little shaggy.

“How can anyone call them standard?” I asked.

“They’re the standard by which the rest of us

have to measure ourselves,” Frank said.

“Damn. I’ve got P.E.,” Sparky said.

The three of us sat there, for a long time,

tongues hanging out, watching, not saying a word.

Finally Sparky got a little quivery, nipped at his side.

“So I’m thinking,” he says, one eye on Brad and Angie,

“new business: sweet little pompom poodle tails —

clip on. Full range of colours and sizes.

Easiest thing in the world. Everybody

wants to be a poodle. You in?”

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