Dog Walkers in Manhattan Beach

Up, as the sun stretches lazily across the unmade bed of the Midwest

and taps the Pacific shore, rousting the shore birds,

up before they planned, before coffee, before mirror,

up before their war paint and fences, they come out with leashes,

wrinkled pajama pants, and flip flops that softly slap and whisper

sleepy recognition to one another.

Avatars, they stand in squares and yawn,

bishops and pawns and queens in sidewalk white, boxes and

patios and crosswalks and driveways while their dog, or dogs,

pull them along, straining to hear the just-recorded tales

of other dogs, or their own forgotten stories from yesterday,

stolen cheese and flatulence, a plastic cone around the neck, fleas, bacon.

Midwest dogs head for the woods, alone, but apparently

the etiquette here is for dog-walkers is to look away when the dogs stop;

don’t meet eyes as the girls squat and unleash puddles,

the boys lift their legs against fence, bush, trash can, tricycle (sorry!), and when

the dog finally arches, the dog walkers of Manhattan Beach

make a grand show of inserting the hand into the blue bag,

a surgeon scrubbed and ready, reaching for the prize.

It’s impossible thereafter to think of cities in the same way,

pee upon pee, log upon log, surely each square inch is marked with

the stories and song and missed connections and heartache of dogs

while their owners recline on lounges in Belize, Shang-hai, Sydney

and their proxies in pajamas move dutifully around the board,

shifting from one foot to another while they wait for their charges

who eagerly sniff the latest news, review the latest urinary art installation,

leave messages for friends, enemies, future selves –

Until finally by the leash they are led

back up the stairs, up the driveway,

or into the garage, one by one,

their flip flops scuffing softly along,

their wrapped blue bags left in a stranger’s trash,

someone else’s door closing behind them

as the sky slowly opens, yawning pink over the Pacific

at the bottom of the hill.

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