There was, every spring, a new batch of pups,
Yipping, nipping, clumsy balls of nappy fur,
Looking for all the world like speckled tennis balls
Which hadn’t yet learned any hard lessons at the hands of a racquet.
They chased their tails,each other, various denizens of the barnyard:
Frantic chicks, cranky piglets, the occasional bemused draft horse,
And sometimes they chased us as well, yelping childishly,
Rolling on the ground with us, nipping our bare fingers and toes,
Afterwards laying on the ground asleep, looking (save for the rhythmic twitching
Of their paws) positively angelic.
Come late August, the time would come to set them on the coons.
We’d long since stopped thinking about it, much less questioning it
(I had, one year, asked my father if the puppies had to go one time too many
Until, with a look that precluded further conversation,
He said flatly It’s what they’re born to),
And we went on with the business of the soft, slow late summer
Until some evening just after sunset
We would hear the baying of the hounds out toward the back fields,
Mechanical and workmanlike at first,
But soon strained and syncopated with excitement,
And at some point there would be a cacophony of cries and snarls
Until there was only silence.
The next morning we would visit the dogs,
And we would pet them and rough-house a bit,
And sometimes there might be an oddly rouged spot on their fur here and there,
Or one of them might sneeze out a bit of fur that didn’t rightly belong to them,
And every year our Uncle Bryce would slyly opine
You boys may want to be a bit more careful around their mouths, hear?