Charlton and Chelsea gambol
in crisp leaves,
one chocolate, the other blond.
They don’t care, don’t seem to know,
we sometimes call them Vanessa and Duncan,
sometimes Thomas and Jane, the pair in Cheyne Walk,
not the equally apt Lady and her gamekeeper.
They are just dogs, after all, overly friendly, frequently wet;
and they do not know their strength.
This morning they brought me down hard in the kitchen,
such was their joyous anticipation of doggy Weetabix.
So now it’s time for a walk on Plumstead Common
to expend that pent up energy.
himself sometimes Duncan,
sometimes Lady Jane, rarely Cheyne Walk Thomas,
has leashed Charlton and Chelsea, leashed me,
and promises treats. It used to be birthdays, my own,
then the birthdays of others, which marked the rhythm of my year;
later it was deaths, funerals, appointments with medical
specialists that studded my calendar; no longer
are these external markers of my seasons.
The wind moves leaves, Charlton romps, Chelsea watches,
And I look at my reflection in his eyes.
Time these days gets measured by e-mail,
online chat, phone calls, and
now by Transatlantic visits.
The Yorkshire neighbor,
red knit cap and scarf, appears on the path
dragged into Labrador range by her red-leashed trio.
Clearly, she wants an introduction.
Maybe it’s the American accent,
but Chelsea sits on command; Charlton joins her
to get a biscuit from his jacket pocket.
Redcap pauses, ensnarled in terriers who do not sit;
and despite Chelsea’s disapproval and mine,
he offers each a biscuit.
She finds him attractive.
Women often do.
I give her his name, only that,
and we move on.
Two small ducks paddle away
as Charlton strains toward the water;
Chelsea lags, birds on her mind, birdbrained he says.
A pair of guys, one leather jacketed and tattooed,
the other smaller, darker, perhaps Muslim,
their hands linked, pass us with the slightest of glances.
Usually slow to warm to strangers, Chelsea brings him a stick,
and he gives it me to throw for her.
He says that Wikipedia claims that one Edwin Cross
was the last “commoner” to exercise the right to graze goats here.
Three days ago he came in from Glasgow, an academic conference
where he read something about the Irish writer George Moore.
And this afternoon he heads back across the Atlantic.
The terrier woman waves before disappearing into a grove of trees.
Cross’s goats prompt an anecdote about Highland cattle glimpsed
from the train, and then another about Longhorn crossbreds
which a partner and he breed in America. For the moment
a man of affairs, my Duncan shows himself Clive, my gamekeeper
Clifford. The wind picks up, and Charlton turns toward home;
The grey clouds scud rapidly westward in a low sky. Chelsea and
Charlton plod toward worn sofa, electric fire, and sleep.
We fall silent, and I shiver slightly when we turn into Burwash Road.
Without help, I wheel my chair up the ramp.
Inside, he latches door, unleashes dogs, and promises me tea.
The hired car is due in forty minutes.
Chelsea crawls into his lap, Charlton
mine. What else is there to say?