You are in the diode archives v6n1



Furs Not Mine

The Russians have a way of saying
what must be said, and one

need not be or speak Russian
to comprehend the sense

of furs not mine. One need only
to have known deep cold, an inmost

Siberia made more Siberian by one
who basks nearby, oblivious in her Bolivia.


Italian Guard Dogs of Peterborough

The Italian guard dogs of Peterborough guard
sheep, and if you’re me, one of the three
Maremmas will catapult himself between the wires
of an electrified fence to escort you past his pasture.
Next week, a borrowed dog, a shepherd,
will lead the sheep and lambs across the street
to another pasture. It’s easier getting the sheep
to buy into decampment. They’ve made
the crossing before, whereas the lambs haven’t
and lambs are skeptical of migration, and rightly so.
There’s considerable history of going
like a lamb, but the lambs need to go
and come back because it turns out
you can only live in your own crap
for nine weeks before the parasites get nasty.
But that’s not the point. The point
is Aldo, the point dog who sidles up
to me because, in addition to guarding sheep
and lambs, an Italian guard dog guards
his future. He does this as we all do: by
dreaming of expansion. His flexing in my direction
is how Aldo applies for the select position
of guarding me, and though accustomed to living
outdoors, in mud and blizzards, Aldo retains
the regal countenance that is his birthright.
He ambles like an Italian god beside me,
the length of the electric fence. No hard
sell here, just the demonstration of jumping
through fire on my behalf, providing an inkling
of what being guarded by Aldo might feel like.
It feels good. I’m wondering what I’d need
to give up to be guarded by Aldo when his owner
and handler, an eager, petite woman
named Francis, rushes toward us with a choke chain
and an apology—the former for Aldo, the latter
for me. Clearly, she and Aldo have not discussed
his plans for expansion. But Francis discusses much
with me: how she grew up in Turkey, the daughter
of missionaries, which explains her tendency
toward flocks, and how she’s moved from pasture
to pasture, from California to Durango to Maine,
where she cared for Phyllis Wyeth, whose accident
happened when she was still a Dupont.
If only she’d had an Italian guard dog!
Francis and her husband got the Maremmas
because the coyotes were getting the sheep, despite
the best efforts of the guard donkey, since retired.
Behind the L of the farmhouse, Francis shows me
where the pasture drops off imperceptibly, hemmed
in by a hidden stone wall that keeps the sheep below
but lets the eye graze continuously. It’s genius, this
bit of British landscaping and it must be what
it feels like to be guarded by Aldo—walled
in, without knowing. I’m guessing that my favorite
Maremma, back with his sheep now, is inking
a contract for me to consider. The terms would be favorable
for Aldo, for me: a win-win scenario at half or twice the price.
Francis explains the complicated lineage of the dogs,
how she breeds but won’t sell them to anyone who can’t
pronounce Maremma properly: like the mare
that comes before an Emma. Aldo is less concerned
with pronunciation; he’s a cloud summoned
to earth and he means to stay busy, to ensure
that the guard dogs who report to him aren’t idle either.
Francis shows me an allée of grass close to the house,
where the road once ran before a deadly turn
further east caused them to move it. Aldo must
sense that legacy of risk and loss: Italian guard dogs
have long memories and a far better attention span
than I, and by the way, Francis tells me
they keep their Bugattis in the barn. Bugattis. Plural.
These are another kind of Italian guard dog. They
guard the goddesses of opulence and speed and La Dolce Vita.
We drive them, Francis admits, sheepishly,
in the rallies. It’s elitist, but we like it.
I’m invited to return soon, when her husband
will introduce me to the Bugattis. I think I will
dress for the occasion, maybe even wear a shirt,
or a shirt with a collar. I should come
with an answer for Aldo, too, who is too
proud to beg. Instead, he splendidly patrols
his side of the fence, in a town founded in 1760
by Italian guard dogs, a hamlet that relies on stealth
protection, fortressing its borders with a sign that reads:
Peterborough A Good Town to Live In—a greeting
humble enough to defend against fatal flaws
such as hubris or too much tourism.
I will return with an answer for the Italian guard dogs
of Peterborough, who race now like three clouds
beneath a cloudless sky, implying
among the stones and grass, among the lambs
and sheep, that all this majesty and safety,
for a limited time could be mine.


When his son—née
to mow the lawn,

he cried out
for the acorns,
rescuing and planting

each in a coffee tin
beside the house.
122 saplings. This

was a small house,
the one to which
the boy and his brother

came home after the bomb-
shell of the execution.
Unable to kill anything

in his own garden, someone
said of Abel, who, seeing
Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

lynched, couldn’t look
away. Nearly any tree
can be a hanging tree,

nearly  any garden—
tilled or pillaged—  
could be one’s own.  


Andrea Cohen’s poetry collections include Kentucky Derby (Salmon Poetry 2011), Long Division (Salmon Poetry 2009), and The Cartographer’s Vacation (Owl Creek Press 1999).  Her fourth collection, Furs Not Mine, will be published by Four Way Books. She directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts.