As I read Yvonne Zipter's new chapbook of poems about her greyhounds, I remembered my response to the first such animal I ever met. Startled by its lean frame, I was convinced it was being starved to death. There's a dog-ness to most dogs, characterized as they are by a certain fluffiness and furriness. But greyhounds are not your usual breed of dogs.
For starters, they're among the most aerodynamically shaped animals, with impossibly lean bodies, willowy legs and curvy stomachs. Every feature, from the tapered snout to the slinky spine, is distilled for speed efficiency. A greyhound is a haiku of a dog.
Greyhounds are mostly used in racing; their careers only last for three to five years, after which they're either euthanized or adopted by a rescue group. Most greyhounds in households are adoptees, and the owners are often almost obsessively devoted to their animals.
Yvonne Zipter is in love with her greyhounds, and Like Some Bookie God is an unashamed series of paeans to the dogs who rule her life. I'll confess I expected a set of greeting card clichés about lovable pets, but found instead a set of masterfully written poems. Zipter's poetry has a tensile strength and an economy of scale, much like the dogs who allow her to wander around in their habitats with them. She's an accomplished poet, and these poems are both elegant and sparkling in their conciseness.
What makes them worthy of returning to is the slow revelation of the relationship between Zipter and the greyhounds who rule her home and life. These dogs aren't her pets; they are ethereal and lovely creatures whose gentleness and friendliness belie a certain reserve. Zipter is not their master but their humble devotee, fascinated by their bodies which seem to be in flight even as they stand still, enthralled by their ability to glide through the world without disturbing the air around them. They are spectral creatures that defy categorization. The greatest charm of Zipter's work is that she never loses her sense of humor, even as she contemplates them most seriously. 'In the Naming' has her wondering how to classify one of them: ''Dog' is too dense a word for him…He is,/ in a word, ethereal. Except/ for the click of his nails/ on the floor and the earthy way/ he licks himself. Maybe 'dog'/ will do after all.'
Zipter occasionally tries to discern the inner worlds of the dogs. In 'A Canine Metaphysics,' she wonders about one dog's perception of his self, '…he wants to run/ but ponders, it seems,/ how he will know/ he's a greyhound/ if I'm not there to see him.' Like Some Bookie God is also a subtle series of meditations on Zipter's—and the dogs'—relationship to the organic world around them. 'Ephemeral' contemplates animal life, including her own: she watches one dog leap in the air, 'like a fish hooked to a line, a whip/ of alarmed resolve;' hammers new boards on the porch, and considers a firefly, 'when all the world could see/ he is neither fairy nor falling star/ but only a homely beetle/ with a wondrous other self.'
Zipter and her dogs emerge as denizens of a world they inhabit sometimes to the exclusion of others, dreaming of dozing together like conspiratorial lovers. In 'Exhuming Eva,' the body of a long-dead animal is dug up and her owner rearranges the bones in her studio, comforted by finding a piece of fur that escaped decay and '…familiar/ as Eva's weight against my leg/ or mourning's sharp punch/ to the heart.' None of this is cloyingly sentimental or awestruck. Zipter's intense attachment to the animals never descends into humdrum worshipfulness. Like Some Bookie God isn't about the universal love between person and dog. It's about one woman's very particular relationship to some very unique animals whose dogness she relays to the rest of us who can only stand outside their world and watch.
Yvonne Zipter will be reading from her poems at Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark, on March 21 at 7:30 p.m. She will be joined by the poets Adrienne Miller and Anne-Marie Oomen as part of Poetry Night.
Contact Yasmin Nair at firstname.lastname@example.org .