“your dog slept on the floor of your” by Alex Chernow

Painting by Anna Rac

your dog slept on the floor of your closet every day after you left.  your family tried to coax him into the yard, entice him with long walks, hold palmsful of deli meat at the bottom of the stairs, but, when left unattended, he’d retreat back to the closet to curl himself into a bed of clothes that still smelled like you

1. piles of unwashed clothes

and your mother, who doesn’t know how to move her body anymore because this is not something mothers are supposed to do      your mother, who hasn’t eaten anything off the plates of casseroles we’ve brought to her side table in endless parade          your mother, who is on her knees again and we don’t know if she’s praying or if she’s too weak to stand

2. so many science fiction novels with spines splayed open and dog-eared corners

which I know you loved but we never talked about them      and I know you used to write but none of us have figured out the password to your laptop, not your team or your dog’s name or your sister’s

3. your elementary school yearbook

and we can’t stop flipping through it saying what a beautiful child you were     and your third grade teacher came and told us how once you got in trouble when you and another boy showed each other your penises in class     and said “maybe I shouldn’t have told you that”     and she cried and kept saying “this is wrong this is so wrong”

4. bottles of lithium, with no pills missing

you’d said in the midst of all the appointments and scans that someday you would donate your brain to science and now it’s at johns hopkins, and everyone said to your parents that of course you found a way to to help others, even now, so like you, and it doesn’t make your parents feel any better

5. a syringe, which no one knew you had or used till    after

6. birthday cards from your grandmother you never threw away

all your family came, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and all your friends, friends you hadn’t seen in years, and your parents’ friends and your brother and your sister and all their friends and the guys you worked with at the bar and your ex-girlfriend who couldn’t stop crying and the kids you coached for the last five years missed football practice to sit around the living room in black and tell your mother no when she said it’s all her fault and on the night of the funeral so many people came they couldn’t fit through the doors and we could tell it made your dad proud, in a weird way, and your parents said it was the party they get to throw for you since they’ll never get to throw a wedding

7. every album by the band your best friend started

and you used to drive an hour and a half to see his shows, every one,    and he wrote a song for you the night it happened and your family listens to it every day

and your brother takes care of your dog now and mixes his food with the bone broth you had made and left in the freezer in hopes that he will eat but even or especially your dog knows this is wrong this is so wrong


Alex Chernow is a poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She holds degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins University, and was the winner of Boulevard magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.