580: Walking the Dogs

580: Walking the Dogs

580: Walking the Dogs


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we do for each other. How we change our whole lives sometimes to be sure we don’t hurt someone, or to be sure we hold on to someone. I’ve watched people in my life drastically change for love, for their family, for their cats. People have stopped smoking, stopped drinking, changed careers, moved across the country.

We don’t talk about that enough. The little promises we make each day to our loved ones that we’ll take care of them, and ourselves. I make promises to my plants even. And I expect them to hold me accountable.

I think there are times that we need ⏤ or even depend ⏤ on people to expect something of us, to want something for us. I know there are times I’ve taken better care of myself, not for myself but for my mother or my husband. Sometimes we need the text thread to tell us to get out of the house for a little bit, to walk the dog, to shower. Sometimes we need the text thread to send us a poem, or a little money, or to stop texting and just come over.

It’s easy to spend so much of my life thinking I am independent, that I am living my life for myself. And then I think of all the ways I care for myself. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, saying, “Have fun, be safe.”

In today’s poem we see how those good voices, those encouraging friends and family, can help us through to the other side. How sometimes having someone to answer to, helps us find the answer.

Walking the Dogs
by Matthew Dickman

I haven’t done drugs for three
days so I name each one after
my sister and mother and brother
and take them out with me
on a walk, each one taking turns
leading, each one the leader
of a pack that was bred in the mid-
seventies, each leash the color
of glass and the density of a star,
I hold each leash like something
that has returned home after being
lost, I walk them under the oaks
and maples, under the lilacs
and cherries, they walk through
the shadows like the team
they are, each caring for the other
like I always wanted them to,
each giving room for a paw, a tail,
sometimes smelling each other
to make sure they are all right,
we are all all right the thing that
is not god whispers to me,
you are not alone, you are not
a shovel or a horse, even the stem
of the rosemary bush is really
excited that you have made it
this far, see how it shivers
in the early spring breeze, see how
it’s a breeze to be with your
whole family, to be the porch
they all sit on after the dinner
and cake, with mugs in their hands
and wine in the mugs, and how they
lift their noses into the wind
and sniff and look
to see if you are there, if you are going
to do what you promised to do,
if you are going to live and call them
sometimes and tell them you love them.

"Walking the Dogs” published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. in Wonderland: Poems © 2018 by Matthew Dickman. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.