Another Poem I Am Thinking About
AN INCIDENT AT THE CATHOLIC WORKER
Sitting in peace in the dining room
of the country community house one Sunday morning,
reading the paper about the latest truce
in Israel, I heard a disturbance in the living room.
People were scurrying and yelling, "Watch out,
he's got a knife!" and "Put her down!"
Then Kenny, the epileptic from Hudson Valley,
appeared at the door with a little dog in one hand
and a cleaver in the other. He said he was going
to take the dog up the hill and throw her in the well.
He said he was tired of how the people in the "community"
were treating him, and he was going to kill the dog
in order to change their attitude. He had
a crazed look in his eye while the dog hung limp,
Mrs. Smith's terrier. I followed him up the hill
while the others prayed below. I said, "Kenny,
what good do you think this will do? They'll only take
you back to the hospital." Then it was there interposed
a fit and he dropped the dog beside the well and fell
to the ground and cut himself with the flailing blade.
I stepped on the hand that held the knife and watched
him twist like a snake with its neck pinned down.
He frothed at the mouth and swallowed his tongue.
I tried to stick my fingers in and pull it out
but he clenched his teeth in a human vise.
I thought in retrospect I could have cut a hole
in his throat with the knife but he was writhing
to the end, turning blue. I watched his ghost
shut down his skin, then disappear inside the well.
I held his body as a souvenir of the fallen world
and thought no less of him. The little dog began to bark
from the edge of the woods. "Shut up!" I yelled,
"Shut up!" and almost felt what Kenny felt as he held
the dog above the well and dangled it like the angry god
who'd crossed a wire inside he head. It was his hatred
for the little dog that had set him off, just its yapping
every night in Mrs. Smith's adjacent room. He had been
treated kindly by everyone, according to the wishes
of our saintly mother, Dorothy Day, who had always said,
"Treat every stranger as if he were the Christ."