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Kelly McQuain reads 'First Dog': 'Let loose, mother-free'

First Dog

First hot day of spring, a yellow Lab

in the park rubs himself wild against new grass

—first back, then front, then

back again—drunk with panting pleasure,

unabashed as only dogs can be. Or little boys,

this one a toddler still,

discovering first dog. His? No.

Yes? Let loose, mother-free, he totters close,

promise of golden pleasure

equal or more than the dog's self-scratch,

sniff of flower, whiff of squirrel, scent of dogs just passed.

Always been afraid before,

mother tells walker in a language

neither of boys nor dogs, left to invent their own

wordless words. I watch

muzzle nudge answer stumble-step, lick

ignite laughter, tug of flappy ears get questioned—Woof?

This communion cut short

by the inevitable No, no, no, dog

pulled back and boy's hand enveloped inside mother's

to practice gentle re-approach,

careful pat, when all boy wants is a rush

of furry, welcoming four-legged monster—a union of worlds

of mutual wonder.

Where in lost memory does my own

first dog live? God, what I wouldn't give

to greet that beast again

— By Kelly McQuain

Kelly McQuain is a professor at the Community College of Philadelphia and a resident of the Italian Market. His poems have appeared in Press 1, Certain Circuits, Black Heart Magazine, and the Philadelphia City Paper, with more work forthcoming in the Painted Bride Quarterly. He holds an M.A. from Temple University and an M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans. He has twice been a Pew Finalist and has received Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for his work in fiction and nonfiction. His poems are influenced by everything from surrealism to Philly hip-hop to the hillbilly ballads of his native West Virginia — all fused together in a new kind of Magic Lyricism. His first word was uh-oh and he's been using it ever since.