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I am exhausted. My bones don’t ache, I lost my bones somewhere in a pile of papers and notes, sitting in a chair for hours on end day into night into day, again, I left them there.

Last semester, I walked into the college classroom where I taught a survey of American literature to discuss the poetry of Robert Frost.

I may have walked into the classroom with a scowl. I can’t be sure.

Does She Lick?

By Irene Zion

Poem

I just got an e-mail

that a little old lady needs a therapy dog,

so I call the phone number

and speak to the daughter

who herself sounds elderly.

Her voice is all trembly

and quavering.

 

She is taking care of her 94-year-old mother.

She says she’s tired all the time.

She’s sorry she sounds tired;

she was taking a nap when I called

because

she was up half the night

because

her mother had diarrhea

and she had to stay awake

to keep her mother cleaned up.

 

Her mother is very clean.

Her mother is her life, she says.

 

She says, the last person who called

had a Rottweiler

but that was way too big a dog.

 

I said, I have a big dog too,

but although she’s about 90 pounds

she’s a Golden and

gentle as spring rain.

 

Oh, she says, oh, that’s big.

 

She has a big heart, I say.

 

Does she lick? she says,

my mother doesn’t like to be licked.

 

I say, she kisses,

yes she does,

she licks.

 

Oh she won’t like that, she says.

 

I ask, did your mother

have dogs when she was younger?

 

She says, not that she knows of

but she did find a picture of her

once, a long time ago with

a tiny little dog.

Maybe seeing a dog

would be good for her,

she didn’t know, it might not

even have been her dog.

 

I say, my dog isn’t tiny

and she does lick

but she makes people happy,

but some people don’t like dogs.

You should know that not everyone

wants a dog near them.

 

My mother is my life, she says,

She has some help during the day, she says,

but really it’s up to her.

 

I say, look here, I have to go away for a week.

Why don’t you take my e-mail?

 

I don’t have a computer, she says.

 

I say, okay then, take down my name

and phone number

and think on it while I’m away.

Call me when I get back

We could just give it a try, I say.

I took care of my mother too, I say.

 

You did?

You took care of your mother? she says.

 

Yes I did, I say.

 

She is speaking louder now and faster.

I think that this is the lady who needs

the visits from a therapy dog.

 

The last place she called said a therapy dog was

$150 per hour for two hours, she says

and she tells the guy

that her mother can’t take two hours of anything

but he says that even if it’s 20 minutes

it’s still $150 for two hours.

 

I say, our organization is all volunteer.

No one has to pay for a therapy dog visit.

I would love to come visit with my dog, I say.

 

She says she’ll think on it.

Big dogs are a problem

and then there’s the licking,

her mother won’t like that,

she’s a clean woman, she says.

 

I said that’s okay.

You just think about it

and give me a call.

 

She says, you really took care of your mother?

 

Yes, I did, I say.

 

My mother is my life, she says.

 

Still, I say, still

you could take a little break,

have a cup of tea,

read a magazine,

if your mother decided she liked

to spend some time with my dog and me.

 

My mother is very hard of hearing;

you should know that, she says.

 

At 94, few of us will have good hearing, I say.

 

I just don’t know, she says.

I’m so tired, I can’t hardly think.

Did you find you got really tired? she says.

 

Yes, oh yes I did get tired, I say.

 

I hope this would be good for my mother

but I just don’t know, she says,

the dog is so big.

 

Big dog, big heart, I say.

 

She licks, though, she says,

I wish she didn’t lick.

 

Is there parking around her place? I ask,

Oh yes, she says, that’s not a problem.

She has a house.

She’s lived here fifty years;

been in the same house fifty years.

 

How wonderful that

she can stay in her own house,

because of your care, I say.

 

I just wish your dog were small,

she says, and didn’t lick.

 

Dogs lick, even tiny dogs lick, I say,

it’s one way they get to know a person.

 

My mother’s a very clean woman,

she says.

 

I’m sure that’s true, I say,

cleanliness is good.

 

So, you took care of your mother,

she says.

 

Yes, I say, it can make you tired.

You think about it while I’m gone,

I say, I understand if you prefer to wait

for a tiny dog

like the one in the picture.

I’ve never myself known a dog

who didn’t lick, I say.

 

I’ll call you when you get back,

She says.