“If I Were a Dog” by Richard Shelton

I would trot down this road sniffing
on one side and then the other
peeing a little here and there
wherever I felt the urge
having a good time what the hell
saving some because it’s a long road

but since I’m not a dog
I walk straight down the road
trying to get home before dark

if I were a dog and I had a master
who beat me I would run away
and go hungry and sniff around
until I found a master who loved me
I could tell by his smell and I
would lick his face so he knew

or maybe it would be a woman
I would protect her we could go
everywhere together even down this
dark road and I wouldn’t run from side
to side sniffing I would always
be protecting her and I would stop
to pee only once in awhile

sometimes in the afternoon we could
go to the park and she would throw
a stick I would bring it back to her

each time I put the stick at her feet
I would say this is my heart
and she would say I will make it fly
but you must bring it back to me
I would always bring it back to her
and to no other if I were a dog

“If I Were a Dog” by Richard Shelton, from The Last Person to Hear Your Voice. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007.


Editor Favorite: This is one of my all-time favorite poems (originally shared here on March 17, 2014). It makes my heart soar as if it were flying, higher, higher, and higher still, to such great heights. For M, te amo.


“Such Great Heights” (cover) performed by Iron & Wine; (Original by The Postal Service.)

2 thoughts on ““If I Were a Dog” by Richard Shelton

  1. Brian Dean Powers

    This is one of those poems with no punctuation, where the sentences just run on. I’ve never understood if this is just a stylistic choice, or if it’s meant to convey meaning.


    1. Hi Brian,

      Of course it will depend poet to poet but I think in Shelton’s case it is a particular choice for this poem think how a bumbling energetic puppy or dog would write consider his voice in long breathless run-on sentences without breaks or punctuation one long thought all about peeing and seeking and finding joy and love and flying hearts and never straying always returning and then finally collapsing to rest in a contented pile of fur at your feet still looking up at you with eyes that glow from happiness and longing and home

      Just my take, anyway. 😉

      Shelton is a neat guy. He’s done a lot of work with teaching poetry to those incarcerated: http://www.npr.org/2015/02/07/384589764/reforming-prisoners-through-poetry

      And most of his pieces do indeed use spacing and punctuation and capitalization, so definitely a precise decision to not use it in this piece.

      Here’s a link to another of his poems: http://www.rattle.com/in-search-of-history-by-richard-shelton/

      (Got your .pdf just fine, thank you! It’s perfect. I’ll follow up soon.)

      Sent from my iPhone



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