We’re pleased to present anther poem from the latest collection from James Mersmann, a lasting figure in Alabama poetry and Professor Emeritus of English at UAB. The book is Straying Toward Home, and published by Court Street Press. You can find all about their high quality books at www.newsouthbooks.com. Straying Toward Home is available at Reed Books, the Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor, and other bookstores with enough sense to carry it.

The Dogs of War
by James Mersmann
(the week before “Desert Storm”)

The midnight racket rakes me out of sleep,
a hubbub like wrecked cars in a bender,
hell-broke-loose in the suburbs, Navajos
or Baptists at war, the rapture with gongs.
Outside the fence three neighborhood strays
bark and leap, dancing in snarling synchrony
with my Husky and Lab on the inside, all five
in paroxysm, at full voice, raging
and threatening like TV wrestlers, teeth
and spittle, snap and slaver, crowding
the wire. How brave and perfect.

each is, how full of joy and ferocity,
ready to tear the enemy, untiring, sure
of God and war, far from the thought of turning
tail-between-the-legs. Their sincerity

depends upon a chain-link fence.

Safe and uncut, they love the bite
of words, the rippling of muscles unripped.
Until we bleed under the long tooth,
feel the hot mouth of death close
at our throats, we are warriors all.
Frantic and immune they bark on, tearing
up the terrace in storms of zoysia and slobber.
They might continue forever

except that suddenly the God-who-loves-sleep
blazes on the porch: “Get the Hell Out of Here,
You God-Damned Dirty Mongrel Sons-a-Bitches!”

Quick and low the three are across the street,
looking over their shoulders.
My two wheel panting toward the house
and pirouette on the steps to be petted –
as if they have defended something.