Our dog Homer had a purple collar
that clashed with his red retriever fur.
The collar was made of nylon webbing
you might use for slings on a climb,
but the only thing this sling was clipped to
was his leash, which sometimes
he pulled against so stubbornly
that the collar slipped over his ears
and flopped on the ground
like the gaping mouth of a sucker fish
while Homer himself went galloping off
into the bushes. Once he came back
from a student dorm with a whole, round
pizza draped from his stupid grin.
Other times I’d simply hold him by the collar
and knuckle my hand into his neck
to let him know he should stay with me
because I was his friend. And I was.
Our son, however, liked to take the collar off
entirely and let him go unlicensed,
just the way that son, when older,
liked to take the license plates
off the front of the family cars.
Because they look better without them,
he always said. And they did.
Paul Willis has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Somewhere to Follow (Slant Books, 2021). Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Christian Century, and Best American Poetry. Books in other genres include the essay collection To Build a Trail (WordFarm, 2018) and the YA novel All in a Garden Green (Slant Books, 2020). Paul lives with his wife, Sharon, near the old mission in Santa Barbara, California.