Friday, July 24, 2009


I really connected with this poem in The New Yorker. It told a story that really caused me to have a reaction, which is what good poems have. The poem, "Bereavement," is exactly like the title sounds. Enjoy.


by Kevin Young

Behind his house, my father's dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,

their names.
By dusk they seem
to unremember everything--

to them even hunger
is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them

pacing their cage. I try to remember
they love best confined space
to feel safe. Each day

a saint comes to feed the pair
& I draw closer
the shades.

I've begun to think of them
as my father's other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.

My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.

They are outside dogs--
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful

& one giant muscle
like the heart. Dad taught
them not to bark, to point

out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me

like witnesses & will not stay.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness--

wish them of forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find them homes,

sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace
as I do, each dog like an eye

roaming with the dead
beneath an unlocked lid.

It's quite a sad little tale, isn't it? A son must deal with his father's death, but what do you do with the two dogs? What do they know of bereavement? Do they understand his passing and miss his presence? Do they know that they will soon be found different homes? Who knows what the dog thinks?

Even though the poet was very brief with his words, he was very concise with his message and the plot. I felt like the reader could create his/her own story with images--I envisioned the whole poem going on--and it was very easy to follow. The poem also had some very thoughtful lines which added to the poem, not being as much of a story but with some slight commentary and thoughtfulness (plays on words, touching similes). For example, "To stay." That might have been my favorite line. Really meaning "stay," like a dog command, but a pun as to mean to stay at the house and remain in the old situation.

I liked the "Brothers-in-paw" idea. That was quite clever. I guess they almost do feel like kin since he had such a relationship with them, like a caretaker, almost like a father. It's eating the poet alive inside as to what to do with them. He can't stand to watch them for that, for seeing how much they might miss him, and for how they are taking this absence of their owner.

"I ask for their care & carelessness," was also a really good line that I enjoyed. He wishes many things of them, that they won't care, that they forgive him. He feels like he has no choice but to give them away, and he can't sleep with that thought. He's already dealing with the death of his father, and the dogs add a little more heartbreak to the mix. I'm sure situations like these occur all the time, but there might be someone in the family who could actually take the dog(s) which could take some pressure away.

The last stanza was quite clever, taking out one of the lines. Normally, the poem continued with three lines, perhaps signaling to the poet and the two dogs. But the last line of the poem leaves out one of those lines. Usually, that signifies the loss of some kind, in this case, it could either be that he is or has gone through with his decision to eliminate the dogs or he has lost a part of himself. It even suggests "dead" in the poem, as if he has a few parts of himself that are "dying," so to speak, by the end of the poem. All in all, it's a clever ending.

I really liked the poem, but it might make someone who really cares for animals a bit sad. They might have something to add on how animals might react to the death of a caretaker. I wouldn't really know, but I've explored all I can thus far on the poem.

So what do you think of "Bereavement?"


Kimberly Rose Carolan said...

It is a good poem. And, from my experience with animals, they do seem to have some sense of death. I do not know their understanding, but I remember my dad's dog not eating for a while after his death. Thanks for sharing the poem!

Kim Carolan
Author of Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

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