I was damned by the pitches of the street vendors.
They growled their medicine could bring
a glimpse of the devil, so I got some and gave a little
to the hellhound on my trail. That dog looked like
it had learned to take a beating, one leg shorter
than all the others. It stood lopsided
like a wet paper sack and seemed to say, Hey,
I hear a train. Come on, let’s catch it.
So off we’d go to the jukehouse for some
midnight trouble. Some would blame it
on the whiskey, but I blame it on
this dog that follows me around.
He sure loves to be rubbed behind
the ears. He doesn’t bite, but he’s got
the eyes of a killer, maybe from a previous
life when he had the mange creeping
around the Delta. I’ve seen the way he licks
the hand of a well-made up woman. If I did<
that, it would be a dark night for the soul
and a winter day to follow. Maybe I’d lie
crumpled on the floor, poisoned, holding
my belly until the morning came to pay
its last respects, and the old man
from the plantation would say, Looks like
he died from syphilis. Then that old
hellhound of mine, he’d be off to
preaching somewhere else
in his own particular way.
Tim Kahl [http://www.timkahl.com] is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009), The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012), The String of Islands (Dink, 2015), and Omnishambles (Bald Trickster, 2019). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Drunken Boat, Mad Hatters’ Review, Indiana Review, Metazen, Ninth Letter, Sein und Werden, Notre Dame Review, The Really System, Konundrum Engine Literary Magazine, The Journal, The Volta, Parthenon West Review, Caliban and many other journals in the U.S. He is also editor of Clade Song [http://www.cladesong.com]. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He plays flutes, guitars, ukuleles, charangos and cavaquinhos. He currently teaches at California State University, Sacramento, where he sings lieder while walking on campus between classes.
Editor’s Notes: A hellhound is a supernatural dog in folklore. A wide variety of ominous or hellish supernatural dogs occur in mythologies around the world. Features that have been attributed to hellhounds include mangled black fur, glowing red eyes, super strength and speed, ghostly or phantom characteristics, and a foul odor. Certain European legends state that if someone stares into a hellhound’s eyes three times or more, that person will surely die. In cultures that associate the afterlife with fire, hellhounds may have fire-based abilities and appearance. They are often assigned to guard the entrances to the world of the dead, such as graveyards and burial grounds, or undertake other duties related to the afterlife or the supernatural, such as hunting lost souls or guarding a supernatural treasure. In European legends, seeing a hellhound or hearing it howl may be an omen or even a cause of death. They are said to be the protectors of the supernatural, guarding the secrecy of supernatural creatures, or beings, from the world. [Cited from Wikipedia.]
I wanted to pair the poem with something more subtle than obvious demonic dog, yet I wanted it to have a sense of the sinister just enough to make it creepy. I found such an image, Shadow Hound (by AidenQ) on Deviant Art.