Stephanie L Harper 1

if i decided to stop being a poet
what would i do instead?     i asked
(my husband) the other night

the other night when it was late
it was too late to start cooking dinner
& the cattle dog     who lives for order

requires order      & feels its lack
like her hackles feel static    she was pacing
between us     resorting to vocal admonishments

to higher-than-usual-pitched chortling     cajoling
someone to get with the program     the other night
after gymnastics     & martial arts     & driving

driving in gridlock on multiple highways
after the shopping wasn’t done
after—& we were too hungry to cook dinner—

after hunger became the side dish of the night
after my husband had worked all day
& beer number three hadn’t staved off his hunger

& hunger was a side dish      the kids snacked
on chips     & played redundant games on their phones
& the floor was unswept     the dog was anxious

her nails clicked on the unkempt floor
the cat meowed to be fed     the shopping wasn’t done
& so a can of tuna was cracked

the cat’s bowl was filled     & we gave the dog the juice
the dog lapped     then she went back to clicking
& minutes ticked another hour

while my fingers ticking on the keyboard
whooped up a frenzy of words on the screen
with hurricane intensity they swirled

they dispelled into wisps against cold fronts
& re-galvanized in isolated updrafts     but rained nothing
because meaning always slips drily away from the words

& escapes like sly prey into the woods     because
the words bravely give chase     but they were never cut out for this hunt
& they get lost     & hungry

they go hungry like an injured wolf separated from its pack
like a cattle dog lacking order     & teenagers not-talking on phones
like groceries that can’t shop for themselves

like the cat settling for tuna
well     not like that
like clacking keyboards churning up dry storms

like computer screens adrift
at the mercy of tidal waves of hunters
& peckers     & especially delete-ers

_____like a poet who can’t do anything instead

like the shift key     & the alt key
like the fourth beer needs to be the ctrl + alt + delete keys
like delete is a kind of key

they go hungry

like a husband


“Instead” was first published by the brilliant editor and poet and fabulous human being d. ellis phelps in Formidable Woman, and appears in my debut chapbook, This Being Done.

On a more solemn note, my Cattle Dog, Sydney, crossed the rainbow bridge this week at the ripe old age of 15 years 1 month. Being a part of this loyal, quirky, intelligent, beautiful, fascinating canine’s chosen family has been the honor of a lifetime. I wouldn’t be the poet or person I am without her influence.

Sydney Beggar


8 thoughts on “Instead

  1. Such timing … seeing this one again this week when I cannot seem to get anything done for being whacking the keys trying to keep up with thought-streams running rampant (and mostly going nowhere) …
    my “puppy” Buttercup is a month shy of 12 and has begun noticeably slowing down. My new model for aging: chase whatever you want, and worry later about consequential pain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to believe that all our “churning up [of] dry storms” in the end, has a profound effect on the climate we inhabit. For one thing, we have no choice about it…

      Give Buttercup a huge hug and a big piece of crispy bacon for me! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh how I love this piece, Stephanie (it’s dog-eared in my copy of “This Being Done”)! And now with Sydney’s crossing over and you being in Indiana – oof. A few more layers are definitely added. So bittersweet.
    Sending you love and hugs,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ericka! I sure miss you. I’ll never forget the time you came over and it took Syd like ten minutes to realize she’d forgotten to bark at you, poor old girl… She had a good, long life.


  3. Condolences on the loss of Sydney. She sounds wonderful, and a loving relationship of 15 years’ duration is much better than what usually occurs between humans. As you say, she had a good, long life — while enriching your own. Still, the missing is hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much, Cate! It’s true — you always know exactly where you stand in relationships with canines (and they have so much to teach us, if we’re open to learning) which is not the rule with humans often enough. ❤️


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