For my niece Molly
Our neighbor Mr. Pomerantz has dogs.
He wears tweed hats with spotted quail feathers,
Mr. P, as we call him, not his dogs.
His dogs wear knit sweaters with red birds on them.
I don’t think his dogs know there are birds on the sweaters,
or that the birds are red quail which doesn’t make sense anyway.
Somewhere I heard that dogs only see in black and white
which might explain why they bark at squirrels
since squirrels look almost the same color as leaves in the fall.
Sometimes I wonder how squirrels see the world.
Do they see Mr. P’s dogs and think it’s weird that animals wear sweaters?
I know they see the world differently from me though,
both squirrels and dogs.
I mean, their height and my height are different
so angle and perspective is obviously different.
But I mean how they perceive this world we’re living in
must be different from me.
Maybe to a squirrel all I am are these two strange things (my feet)
clomping to eat them up so they scurry away
either up a tree or across the street.
The squirrels seem to be busiest in the fall.
They find and bury food and eat and get fat for winter.
I wonder if they ever feel panicked about it?
Like papa squirrel thinks, “Oh my gosh, my squirrel pantry’s not full!”
Maybe that’s why they lose it and dart across the street
and cars screech to a stop and moms’ right arms
stick out straight across kids’ chests in front seats
or dads say four-letter words
and we know to keep quiet for a while in the back seat.
I think moms and dads do this because they care about us.
Maybe the same reason that squirrels panic about their squirrel pantries.
Dads and moms seem panicked other times too.
Maybe they’re just like the squirrels and want to keep the pantry full.
Dogs are completely different though.
Small dogs, like Mr. P’s dogs,
they seem to like wearing sweaters and leashes.
I wonder if they think they’re in charge?
Like, “Hey Mr. Rottweiler, I’ll bet you can’t get your owner
to buy you cool sweaters and leashes and take you to the park
to play with the other cool dogs.”
The Rottweiler that lives next to Mr. P just glares when they walk by.
Mr. P’s Scotties make a noise that’s isn’t quite a bark
but the Rottie doesn’t bark at them, only at Mr. P,
and only when he wears one of his tweed hats.
Maybe Rotties aren’t so concerned with style as Scotties.
Dogs don’t seem to panic like squirrels to either.
It’s as if they know their lives are safe and that all they have to do is to be a dog.
I think I’d rather be a dog than a squirrel.
I guess I’m kind of like dogs and squirrels though.
Sometimes I feel panicked like how a squirrel must feel in fall.
Like when I have a big school project or intense homework that’s due
or a big game that I really want to play well.
Sometimes it feels like I’m just darting here and there
afraid of something I can’t even see
and I’m not paying attention to cars or dogs.
But the risk isn’t the same for me as a squirrel.
Squirrels can die if they’re not paying attention.
Me though, it’s more like I just didn’t do as well as I know I could have.
That’s when I want to be more like a dog.
Dogs just seem to go with the situation like they’re “in the moment.”
They know how to be dogs and so that’s just what they do.
I’m kind of like that too sometimes
but that’s not usually so much about school
as it is about me learning to be me.
And maybe it’s more than that.
Maybe it’s about me just loving me,
the way that a dog seems to just love being a dog.
So I guess at the end of the day
I’m glad that I’m not a dog or a squirrel.
I’m grateful to be me, living in
this world I’m living in.
Poem by Jeffery Oliver for Molly Leach