Mary Oliver’s Dog at Obedience School

Percy, the wonderful rover
is leashed, suddenly controlled
by his wooly neck and nylon tether.
And now isn’t he well behaved?
Sitting on his haunches, his
monkey butt at rest. Heeling
at a pleasurable rhythm that
gets easier and easier to establish.
Percy, come. Percy, heel. Percy, stay.
He and I, exactly pretending that
riding lawn mowers don’t add measure
to our step, that prancy park dogs
don’t warrant our wild, rapt attention.
We walk together in collusion
like this, silently agreeing
that the minute Percy comes back
when I ask him to come– come back Percy,
is the agreed upon moment I’ll finally
free his animal neck (which everyone knows
is at the top of my list of the world’s
most beautiful sights– a dog off-leash).
I cannot say as much for obedience school
as Percy can say about the pleasure of his
freed body. His feet fluidly romping and
writing letters far sweeter than any poem.
Even so, that genius dog, I celebrate
every single one of his returns and grab
his bristly little neck.

For Real Toads after Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs


31 thoughts on “Mary Oliver’s Dog at Obedience School

  1. I, too, love the sight of a dog off its leash. I respond to this narrative voice – here is a speaker with an eye for the details.

  2. Oh….this touches a sweet spot for me…or two…as a lover of both Mary and dogs!! Awesome work on this, Angie. I love this part:

    “His feet fluidly romping and
    writing letters far sweeter than any poem.”

    So good!! 🙂

  3. This is wonderful. I laughed while I read. I’m so fond of Mary Oliver’s work, as is my spiritual director. Will you send this to her? Or to her dog? I’m sure one of them would read it to the other.

    Years ago, I used to walk my dog on a leash (the dog) through the neighborhood. When we got to the woods behind with the creek below, I’d take off his tether. And we would run through the water. Strenuously happy times.

    Thank you.

  4. “His feet fluidly romping and
    writing letters far sweeter than any poem.
    Even so, that genius dog, I celebrate”

    My dogs (all I have ever owned) never would consider walking off leash and remaining at my side… Adorable and heartwarming.

  5. Sigh….I keep Dog Songs on my Nook for when I get sad while traveling, I always read passages until I’m happy again. I need to print and tuck this one in my briefcase.
    Thank you, Angie. xo

      1. Borrow it any time. You know, sadness and brushes with depression are why my husband gave me a chainsaw for Christmas. Many a honeysuckle bush and elm tree have sacrificed their lives for my well-being. I wish I could help you…I can’t imagine how upsetting your dad’s illness must be…

      2. 😀 I’ve come to terms with my dad…just don’t like how he comes up so dark in my poems. I will choose to make him a honeysuckle bush in the next one

      3. It feels like your writing is serving a purpose in an amazing way right now. Don’t judge yourself or worry if anyone else does…this is your space, your words, your rights. Let it go where it will. Even if you can’t write away the problem, perhaps you can keep that pain at bay. xo

  6. Angie…I’m so glad Michelle led me here via Twitter. (I post others’ poetry as Christina’s Words at Words for the Year.)
    I adore Mary Oliver (oh how many times she has saved my life, over and over) and I love dogs, especially wild off-leash dogs. Curious to read about the pain with your dad…illness? Death? Other? I know a little bit about all that, unfortunately. Looking forward to getting to know you. Xo, Christy

      1. Yay! Thanks for the likes at my RoS site! I do most of my poetry at and then I share others’ work at wordsfortheyear dot com

        I’d love to share a poem or two of yours at Words! I fell instantly in love with this piece. Mary Oliver is a fave, as is Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, Kim Addonizio, Mark Strand, Jack Gilbert, Stafford, Merwin, so many…

        Have fun with training that beautiful golden. My mom always had goldens. They’re the sweetest most loving creatures.

  7. Ah, there is much you have blended here: the world of freedom, the safety of the leash…the will of beast, the love of owner. This poem grows and evolves into something meaningful. Thanks for sharing!

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