A man in long shorts had a tiny dog
he tossed into the leaves piled at the edge 
of people’s yards, the dog 
the same brown as the leaves. 
Too small to bark
it squeaked as it was tossed.

I was seeing someone and we passed it
on our way downtown. A street where boys
stuck dollar bills over coils of shit 
then watched who came along 
and picked them up. Then they jeered
from the window. They were in college
living together. Girls lived together too 
and it was warm enough you could 
still see them tanning on a roof 
or in the kiddie pools they dragged 
to strips of grass along the sidewalk.

The dog’s name was Macho. 
Each time we walked, I hoped
to see it. He found my hope 
annoying, then pathetic.
I think you wish you were that dog.   
No, I want it; I don’t want to be it. 
I think you want to be it.

We were in love 
or in some other thing love served 
as cover for. It required constant testing, 
trying to humiliate while seeming 
innocent, uninvested. Back then 
I didn’t understand that everybody 
did these things, choking or pissing 
on each other, having the girl
impersonate a child being molested. 
You got somewhere and after
you were where you started.   
We drove across the river

to a discount grocer where the baggers 
wore black aprons over buttoned shirts 
and pushed your cart out 
to your car for you, even if you 
asked them not to, it was mandatory. 
Next door, the gas station sold souvenirs
of itself: lighters and what looked like earring boxes 
packed with thumb-size gummy pizzas.

Sun touched the river. 
Complicated trees leaned out
at angles to the water. 
On the radio, a man who made 
a movie was explaining no one
got it: it isn’t funny. The frozen
chicken triggers something 
for the boy, his realization.

Around us stretched the aisles of the fields
then prairie, prairie grasses
over whose incessant restlessness the roads 
and towns were pieced. And far out
moving slow across the earth
black carriages of Mennonites
drawn by horses.

My job was teaching acting at a middle school.   
The skinniest of the Sams was most talented.   
Asked to play an animal, the other children 
jumped or squawked, but Sam’s face hardened
to a twitching glare, his paws examining