The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
will tip its head to howl,
yet not a woof nor a whimper spills
from him, not one faint growl.
He savors human company
and charms you with sad eyes;
but when those orbs turn fiery,
they herald your demise.
He leaves no prints in sand or snow,
appears when the sun is bright,
or at dusk on a crest in the full moon’s glow—
ethereal as night.
It’s said that long ago a pup
that wandered with its master
en route to rugged heights trudged up
a path, straight to disaster.
On the loftiest ledge its keeper lurched
and plunged from ridge to gorge.
The mongrel, lost and restless, searched
the woods for broken George,
but never found the man who’d reared
and steered him through those wilds.
I’d hiked there once, and a dog appeared;
it tagged along some miles,
beguiling me as it larked and leapt,
then bounded off like a buck.
The next time it appeared, it crept
in shadow. Terror-struck,
I lost my footing, nearly tumbled
into a gulch; discerned
a phantom’s gaze. My courage crumbled.
Unruffled, I returned
one early April dawn to climb
those treacherous traprock trails
where copperheads and deer kill time
with toads and cottontails.
Hawks wheeled and whistled, corvids clamored,
thrushes thrilled to fill
the ears of Earth, woodpeckers hammered—
when all went suddenly still.
The cursed cur, his eyes cerise,
I free-fell, easy as the breeze.
My backbone cracked in two.
My eyes flew open: there I saw
the milky fangs of death,
watched venom dribbling from its maw,
although I felt no breath.
Way up above us hung the cliff
I fell from. Then I stirred
and rose, refreshed; I wondered if
a time warp had occurred.
My steps, as light as a lunar cricket’s,
drew me toward the summit
far from the mass of tangled thickets.
Flying! Soaring from it!
Now night and day and all year round
I hike here with a breed
as black as ravens, hushed—a hound
I never have to feed.
Martin Elster writes: “I used to occasionally hike in the hills above the town of Meriden, Connecticut with my friend, Joe Z., who grew up in that town. We were always accompanied by one or two of my dogs. For the last few years, however, my friend has been in a nursing home (in a different town) and recently tested positive for COVID-19.
I called him up to ask him if he could name his favorite poem in my new book, Celestial Euphony, thinking his feedback might help me pick a poem for the Potcake Poet’s Choice. Without hesitation, he said, ‘The Black Dog’. It didn’t surprise me since my poem was inspired by and is loosely based on a local Meriden legend about a ghost dog that is said to haunt those ‘Hanging Hills’.
My friend couldn’t talk anymore, as he was coughing a lot. But I thanked him and knew then and there which poem I would submit. Incidentally, neither Joe nor I have ever encountered that supernatural canine—which is a good thing!”
Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies including of course Sampson Low’s Potcake Chapbooks.
His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations. His new book Celestial Euphony is available from Amazon.