The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
will tip its head to howl,
yet not a woof nor a whimper spills
from him, not one faint growl.
He savors human company
and charms you with sad eyes;
but when those orbs turn fiery,
they herald your demise.
He leaves no prints in sand or snow,
appears when the sun is bright,
or at dusk on a crest in the full moon’s glow —
ethereal as night.
It’s said that long ago a pup
that wandered with its master
en route to rugged heights trudged up
a path, straight to disaster.
On the loftiest ledge its keeper lurched
and plunged from ridge to gorge.
The mongrel, lost and restless, searched
the woods for broken George,
but never found the man who’d reared
and steered him through those wilds.
I’d hiked there once, and a dog appeared;
it tagged along some miles,
beguiling me as it larked and leapt,
then bounded off like a buck.
The next time it appeared, it crept
in shadow. Terror-struck,
I lost my footing, nearly tumbled
into a gulch; discerned
a phantom’s gaze. My courage crumbled.
Unruffled, I returned
one early April dawn to climb
those treacherous traprock trails
where copperheads and deer kill time
with toads and cottontails.
Hawks wheeled and whistled, corvids clamored,
thrushes thrilled to fill
the ears of Earth, woodpeckers hammered —
when all went suddenly still.
The cursed cur, his eyes cerise,
I free-fell, easy as the breeze.
My backbone cracked in two.
My eyes flew open: there I saw
the milky fangs of death,
watched venom dribbling from its maw,
although I felt no breath.
Way up above us hung the cliff
I fell from. Then I stirred
and rose, refreshed; I wondered if
a time warp had occurred.
My steps, as light as a lunar cricket’s,
drew me toward the summit
far from the mass of tangled thickets.
Flying! Soaring from it!
Now night and day and all year round
I hike here with a breed
as black as ravens, hushed — a hound
I never have to feed.