James Wright (1927-1980)

The Old Dog in the Ruins of the Graves at Arles

I have heard tell somewhere,
Or read, I forget which,
That animals tumble along in a forever,
A little dream, a quick longing
For every fine haunch that passes,
As the young bitches glitter in their own light.

I find their freedom from lonely wisdom
Hard to believe.
No matter what the brief skull fails to contain,
The old bones know something.

Almost indistinguishable from the dust,
They seek shadow, they limp among the tombs.
One stray mutt, long since out of patience,
Rises up, as the sunlight happens to strike,
And snaps at his right foreleg.

When the hurrying shadow returns
He lies down in peace again,
Between the still perfectly formed sarcophogi,
That have been empty of Romans or anybody
Longer than anybody remembers.
Graves last longer than men. Nobody can tell me
The old dogs don’t know.