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F. Daniel Rzicznek’s books include Divination Machine (Parlor Press, 2009) and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press, 2007) He is also coeditor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, forthcoming in 2010. He currently teaches at Bowling Green State University.
Canis familiaris: An Inquiry into Appetite
As I sit at my desk with a venison-pork-kale-meatloaf sandwich on toasted Zingerman’s brewhouse bread with Canal Junction Farmstead grass-fed sharp cheddar and plain old Heinz ketchup (plus a glass of very dark beer) my heart can’t help but go out to my dog. He’s sitting eye-level with the desk’s edge, swinging his gaze from my face to the sandwich. Face, sandwich. Face, sandwich. When I’m half finished he sulks away into the bathroom, nudging the door with his head until it clicks shut behind him. His bitterness is easy to understand. Imagine this: from the day you are born, a relative stranger (or worse yet, a physician) decrees that you are to eat only fettuccini alfredo two meals a day for the rest of your weary life. You like fettuccini alfredo well enough and can manage it’s cream-infused dullness on a daily basis. One morning, though, the relative stranger scrambles some eggs and the scent drives you out of your mind. You manage to lick up a few atoms of egginess that fly loose as the stranger moves the goods from skillet to plate. The world is suddenly and irreversibly altered. Fettuccini alfredo doesn’t sound so hot anymore.
Beyond his natural canine (specifically: Labrador) inquisitiveness, I believe my dog Bleu’s daily ration of California Natural Lamb & Rice (“large bite” size) has led him into a career of experimental gastronomy. He’ll try anything once, and sometimes twice. A partial list of his forays so far: feathers, cake, anything plastic (spent shotgun shells, grocery bags, lighters, toy monkeys), piles of dust, fatty beef, old leaves, live ants, ground lamb, wool socks, raw chicken juice, chocolate, Newcastle Brown Ale, cattails, rabbit shit, fried eggs, snow, spilled soup, red long underwear, lollipop sticks, week-old french fries from the side of the road, scotch, goose blood, grass, fish (both live and prepared), ice cubes, rubber balls, lean beef, corpses of fledgling robins, medium-sized tree limbs, carrots, bedding, string, frozen green beans, pine needles, cheese, bread, toilet paper, ground venison, toast, milk, rain falling through a car window, plain pasta, plain rice, bacon, garlic, onion, loose leaf black tea, loose leaf green tea, candy wrappers, knitted slippers, musty catfish skeletons, towels, grocery lists, ladybugs, salt, wooden chairs, deer bones, Beaujolais-Villages, winter gloves, pork shoulder, detachable ice cleats, lightning bugs. Bleu is a reckless fool to be sure, as we all know dogs are allergic to chocolate by varying degrees, and I’ve read that both garlic and onion, when consumed on a regular basis, can attack a dog’s red blood cells, sometimes to the point of death. It goes without saying that a starter of dead baby robin followed with a main course of slippers does not a nutritionally (or spiritually) rewarding meal make. Like the adventurous gourmand who seeks out the Japanese blowfish that is said to kill a handful of the several thousand who dine upon it annually, Bleu’s fear of death is either non-existent (proving his gentleness of mind) or repressed (revealing a perhaps troubled psychological profile). The only logical explanation for his behavior is a mundane diet. This is why my wife and I give him bits of everything we eat in hopes of bringing some sense to his eccentric palate and to promote old-fashioned democratic generosity around the house. This, despite our intentions, has resulted in begging. On a bold day, Bleu will even attempt to lick our plates as we eat, or worse, he’ll heave his front paws onto the counter and snatch up whatever morsels of bread, raw meat or vegetables he can manage. More regular is the practice my wife has coined “counter sharking” wherein Bleu walks with his nose sniffing along the kitchen counter’s edge, drawn like a fuzzy black shark by the sounds and smells of cookery. Sharpen a knife, open a bag of carrots, grind some peppercorns, unwrap a block of cheese and he will appear at your side. Like any sane dog, he likes to eat.
With two bites of the sandwich left to go, I begin feeling sympathetic, even a little guilty. Why deprive my four-footed comrade the very joys I at times take for granted? The meatloaf is out thanks to the presence of onion. I take a small bit of the ketchup-stained bread and open the bathroom door just a crack. I toss the morsel into the darkness and hear rustling, then chewing, then licking, followed by the sound a tail thumping against linoleum. The world, for a moment, is a fine place to be in.