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Shelby Stephenson

The Territorial Basset

I told the vet Oliver was pushy,

that he would nip at my mother's heels

as she walked past him on his L.L. Bean

bag in the corner of the room, a feel,

my mother said, like stepping on a cone

a long-leaf pine dropped on a snake-like bone.

Dr. Neal winced, adjusted his spectacles:

"I have three Pembroke Welsh Corgis and when

I walk them by a certain stout lady

on my block all three at once smell her thin

ankles and she, of course, is real startled

to sense the sound of teeth through her stockings."

I looked at Nin as if my eyes were rocks.

She knew we made a mistake by being

in those stuffy chairs.  I felt like a horned lark

lost from its mate, alone in sun shining

in wayward wind with only a sunset

near to lower color to horizon;

yet I knew I had to thank him:  he looked

out the window of his veterinary

there along Midland Road, Southern Pines:  "Look,"

he said, "it's funny that a basset scares

anyone, for slower than molasses

they are in driveways and roads for passing

cars to screech and blow horns and halt to keep

from running over them like rugs."  I rose

from my seat, took Nin's hand in mine, as if

to say, We all need a good, solid dose

of bourbon or moonshine to quell the faint

light which comes under our shuffling feet.

Shelby Stephenson is author of Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill (Press 53, 2019).

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