"The Dog," by Francisco Goya, is one of the actually untitled Black Paintings the Spanish artist painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823.
Image courtesy Museo del Prado.
Dot on the horizon.
Paddling for all she’s worth
Into the oncoming wave,
Into material, into density.
Out of velocity.
The black dog on the creek bank tracks a smudge of deer dashing through deep woods. The squirrels are so enthralled in their spring frisking they’re oblivious to the dog, muscles tensed, nose quivering, all her intricately-tuned-ballistic-system senses now locked in on those luscious twitching tails. She dives into the ravine after them, paws digging into the yellow clay heavy from recent rains, kicking up the scent of lichen, log pile, and leaf rot, and in a single brushstroke scattering the squirrels up trees and out of reach. The air is golden because the light is golden and up is lighter than down.
Go into your yellow, we are told, and so we do,
Easeled to a view of sunflower fields fronting the nuclear cooling towers.
The painter squints at my efforts and says, This black splotch here looks like the head of a dog.
Heat looms like a car too fast around a bend.
We work like dogs panting in the sun, brushes in hand.
Like the universe expanding from the first hot bubble.
We want to know, we said.
Because on their first and blind date in 1957, my mother is wedged up against my father who is driving the whole gang on this joy ride. She’s trying to study for her final biology exam. The notes in her lap are diagrams of the male reproductive system.
A law of nature has been broken
In a laboratory on Long Island
In a quark-gluon plasma soup
For a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second.
When gold nuclei travelling at 99.999% of the speed of light smashed together,
Up quarks moved with magnetic field lines; down quarks traveled against.
A break in parity, symmetry.
Maybe this can tell us why we’re matter more than antimatter.
Why we matter.
Because fifty years later, my mother sits with my father in the urologist’s office, looking at the same diagrams of the male reproductive system while the doctor explains prognosis, treatment, progressions. And after the bladder is removed, chemo, radiation. And then maybe.
Maybe the dog is an up quark.
Maybe the dog is a down quark.
Maybe the dog is in the soup.
One day years ago, walking with the dog. Not my dog, my father’s dog. A dog named Man. A golden yellow dog bounding in and out of golden rod along the country road.
Then, a car coming too fast around the lonesome bend. After the collision, my father closing the window of the dog’s eye; shoveling a hole in the field. That break in symmetry. The heaving of his shoulders. Still.
Because the world is made of atoms,
Because symmetry underlies the laws of the universe,
Because the universe is expanding,
We count on the universe being neither right- nor left-handed,
On being even-handed, balanced, fair.
But the weak force of nuclear radioactivity
Isn’t balanced. We’ve known this since the fifties.
Who knows where we’d be if we didn’t
Matter more than antimatter.
Around the bend, the black dog finds a possum carcass—putrid lump of bone and gristle and tissue—and gives herself to it utterly, bending her front left leg and lowering her shoulder, the way we’d ease into a hot bath. Then she’s fully down and on her back, twisting her torso to and fro to rub it in, to embed the stink deep in her hair and skin. She’s painted herself for us, grotto and gutter, pigment and fume.
Wiping the brush on a linseed-oiled rag:
The stain, a murky brownish yellow.
Don’t see a bladder-cancered father’s urine.
Don’t feel the certain seasick uncertainty
In prognosis, treatment, progressions.
In the way Goya painted the dog.
In the way the pigment of an end looms. Go into your yellow, the painter says, and so we do.
Nuclear cooling towers overflowing their basin of sunflower fields.
Whatever the season, the dog sees autumn and winter, mostly. Violet, indigo, blue. Yellow, yellow, yellow. Some red. She sees better at night than we because her eyes have more rods, and a reflective surface behind the retina that ricochets light back through. Her tapetum lucidum: beautiful tapestry. That’s why dogs’ eyes shine yellow in the shadows beyond the fire beyond the cave in the darkness our eyes clutch at, pleading for scraps of vision, of understanding, of mercy.
Because it isn’t fair,
This pigment, or this yellow.
Because, as we were saying:
We want to know who and what
And where and when and how.
All the way to the beginning.
Why at the heart of every large galaxy
There’s a massive black hole.
Dog scratching at the back door.
Strange matter, a dog, warm and panting. Slurry of black fur snuffing dung and death and dirt. The way she bounds through the fields, chasing what we’ve thrown. Explorer, emissary, inventor, strong force withstanding extreme heat and colossal density. Plunging into the yolk, the very birth pangs of the cosmos. Because we’ve asked her to.
for William H. Street
July 6, 1933 - September 8, 2010