“Dog’s Tail Told Tanka” Tanka 2196

(December 13, 2018)

Once she dragged me near

jaw-to-wrist to the near woods

to put out a fire

moss-smoke and palmetto fronds

with just-yellow tongues showing*

*(The culprit sat nearby fascinated by the flame he grew. I yanked his arm – rudely I must say – and drug him back to the street – Holly I think – and raced across half of Maple to the two-story place we lived for a while upstairs while our home was being built. There was an old saucepan – a big one – out by the back-of-the-house where a faucet served to fill Winkie’s outdoor drinking needs. Took me three or five trips hurriedly sloshing water across my shorts and shoes to put out the fire. Later my two brothers got whipped for participating with other neighborhood kids in building an alleyway fire out of moss and dried palmetto fronds. Now, I like illicit fire in the woods as much as the next kid, but I never did anything with a fire in the woods or elsewhere which involved play – just cooking a killed quail or such, like the one Ronnie Risner beaned with an old darkened-by-overuse baseball out behind The Register’s portion of our dwindling blueberry and blackberry woods all-to-soon giving way to more houses and such. So it was no surprise to me that when I left active duty Marine Corps and returned to Sanford to finish that Sophomore year of college and lived in Lake Mary on a lake I inherited a dog, Heidi, a massive Saint Barnyard, and joined The Lake Mary Volunteer Fire Department as a hoseman and a junior engineer…because, after all, what young male is not a pyromaniac at heart, with or without a cave, with or without a dog? Just instead of setting fires in alleyways using moss and palmetto fronds I got my kicks walking into burning places – the Old Stucky’s (roadside gas-n-groceries store) out by State Road 46 near Interstate Four, or between two houses burning bright and roiling dark smoke in Midway where the corrupt Water District and the corrupter Ginderville Volunteer Fire Department was supposed to be on the lookout and we came barreling through Sanford on 25th Street (State Highway 46) with two women volunteers using their cars to block the North-South main artery roads and The Major, Margie Hess, and me driving in the pitiful old pumper with the biggest water tank and only a 60-gallon-per-minute capacity pump while we awaited the available other male volunteers to come help this 2 p.m. conflagration which threatened the Black community’s modest – okay less than modest – nondescript shacks in that part of town. It was a gas at Stucky’s sneaking to the night watchman’s cot in the middle of the store with black-n-orange nasty rolling flames working through the fiberglass insulation overhead. Nope, the watch was not asleep on his cot. We took turns, three or four of us, breathing good clean air just off the fire hose’s fog-nozzle as we crawled in and out and when we came to the door whose window I cut myself on the right forearm breaking so we could unlock the deadbolt, there were Longwood and Seminole County Fire Departments’ men wearing Scott Airpacks, helmets with face shields and all the latest gear standing ’round to greet us in our soot-blackened faces under our firemen’s helmets. Winkie would have loved it as she washed off the soot. Tiger, too.)

“Dog’s Tail Told Tanka” Tanka 2198*

(December 13, 2018)

no matter she’d give

her last breath to save that boy

she turned on dad

a week later we came back home

to mom’s soft: winkie is gone

*(Tanka 2199 is missing…the last two lines read: mom said she was taken by/ the army now – but I knew: lie!/ it was years – three or five at least – before another dog came into our lives. And this one was spectacular, but he too was doomed to die…just as his son also left us bereft. I shall try to insert the biographical dog-tales later. I must finish the chore dog-love left me earlier this month.)

“Dogs’ Tail Told Tanka” Tanka 2201*

(December, 13, 2001)

He died…but not ‘fore left a little larger son

yellow-cur bent tails!

and Tiger Two** Tamed Sanford

at least lots of its girl-dogs!

*(The final tanka of a series of the two (actually, three) dogs who came to House Richards in the formative years of the late 1950s through the middle of the 1960s. In 1967, returning home from a full-moon midnight surfing expedition (and else!) at New Smyrna Beach I stopped at a sitting yellow-cur bent-tail dog at the corner of Mellonville Avenue State Road 46 just on the outskirts of town. I opened the door of dad’s ’65 Ford Custom 500 and Tiger Two hopped aboard without a word of explanation but his smile was even more self-satisfied than mine. He sat just behind the Hurst shifter Glenn had installed. You, too, Tiger? was all I could say. He hopped out at Cedar Avenue as I parked, the waft of bacon and sausage and pancakes coming through the front door and Two took his leave to go sit patiently at the back porch screen door for me to have my fill and take him his portion. He always went out to the woods just past the thin two-lane dirt track dividing line that became one day later 24th Place and paved but never to standard all the way to Cedar Creek running a “continental Sanford Divide from Lake Jem (Jenny?) all the way to Lake Monroe…the other creek ran, eventually, to to Lake Jessup. Both Tigers and I had walked those creek banks – both sides – by ourselves several times. And what we saw and what we did remain secret still. Suffice to say of the above adventure poeticized in haiku/tanka form I caught a slight hell from mom about where I had been all night. “But, mom,” I pled my case, “I said I’d be home early” A wink at dad just finishing up his breakfast before going to tell the Mouse House how to do it. “And, look outside: it’s early.” The sun had just cleared The Risner’s trees and was illuminating mom and her pet Eastern Indigo which lay wrapped upon itself in those not-coil coils on the 110-gallon fuel-oil drum just outside her galley kitchen window. “Leave The Boy ‘lone, Sally,l” Dad said behind a last mouthful. “It is early.” He winked back. Mom laughed at her two miscreants. Glenn and Storm both had gone off to do what it was they were doing. The lady ran a three hour breakfast bar some days it seemed. My job – and Tiger’s, both of ’em – was to finish the pile of whatever presented itself for food to fuel her barbarians. Skeeter The (Siamese) Cat who knew she was a dog, Petey the Parakete, and whatever name the current guinea pig wore all ate different from Tigers-n-me. That made them pets. Tiger – well, okay, Skeeter too and later Skeeter Two – were family. And you fed family breakfast…even if Skeeter always spit out the apple slices Tiger and I always had for mid-morning snacks.)

The plethora of yellow cur dogs – with bent tails and enigmatic smiles – I remain convinced were the fault of both Tigers of ours who had habits amorous – but responsibly so. I finally found out what almost always Tiger I and Tiger II kept deep in the woods abutting our house: he had stashed a lady gotten in The Family Way and to the then love-of-his life a roll or three of pancakes. I’m not sure he ever brought them bacon or sausage. Sometimes he’d upchuck some scrambled eggs before his queen of the moment, but never the good stuff. What a guy!)