Bunny Goodjohn

Born in the UK, Bunny Goodjohn is an English professor at Randolph College, Director of the Writing Program and Tutoring Services, and author of Sticklebacks and Snow Globes and Bone Song. Visit her official site. Read her SubtleTea interview here.


To My Husband on the One-Month Anniversary of Our Separation

In the absence of children, we placed checks against animals:
four cats and hens to remain with me; the dog moved
to your side of the page along with the sectional sofa,
the king-sized missionary bed, the Smith Mountain watercolors.

While you moved out, bought new sheets, acquired
a phone number I need not learn, installed another
electric perimeter fence around four acres of real estate
I will never visit, I pet-sat my own dog;

at night she paced, chewed my baseball caps to damp spirals,
went cold turkey. Day found her insanely panicked, at peace finally
in the back of our old car, her long blonde nose resting
on the Jeep’s rough carpeting, one ear unflopped and cocked.

Last week, while you pet-sat the cats and hens, I visited my parents
to explain our separation, a situation I thought as fragile as the eggs
the Rhode Island Red had been brooding for a fortnight.
And today you drove eight miles to the airport to pick me up,

and I’m with the dog in the back of the car, her tail beating
a soft tattoo, snout burrowed beneath my leg. A strange land,
this back seat—watching your fingers upon the steering wheel,
your tanned arms, the shirt I have laundered for seven years—

and I wonder at the choices we make: at the dog’s, to hunt
down comfort in cars; at mine, to tell my mother you are stupid
but essentially a good man; at yours, to bring your girlfriend,
to open the car door for her, to give her my front seat.



Running 29 North

Two dogs trot slow down 29 North,
proud and skitty. Behind, traffic creepsto nothing. We sound our horns, lean out
our windows. The man at the front
tells them how goddamn late he is,
how they need to goddamn move right now.

We, who are in a hurry to get to where
we need to be, crawl hood to trunk
while these two—one white, one brown— revel in the road’s wet asphalt, its cracks
and ridges, the trash stitched through
the hedgerow, field’s wet scent rising like mist.

I’m tying down my need to rescue them, to tempt them into my car with treats. They’re not skinny, this pair, in no need of intervention. In fact, they’re indifferent
to us, locked in our cars, stalled
on our way from, our way to.

We’re a mere distraction in their moment,
as much as that fence is, this broken gate,
those crows lifting to trees, the road signs
that force us to yield, to stop. And yet,
I still have this need to catch them,
to show them my life is better than this,

this life they’re living now, fur furrowed
by rain, noses scrubbing the road,
and I’m mad at their stubborn refusal
to get out of the way, to let me pass,
to get back to all the things
I have to offer them.

previously published in Reed Magazine





In a room with flock paper and a dresser
whose drawers had never held anything
precious for more than a few nights,
I used sex—illicit and fumbled—
to wreck a marriage. The dalliance, raised
from five days of fluttering and flattery,
opened to my fingers, unused to suit cloth,
stroking his lapels, to my ear full of breathy
obscenity, to the fact I was naked as a girl
while he was fully clothed. He wore a string vest,
its old man lattice embossing his silk shirt.
When he realized I was game, a fawn
in the headlights of his daring, he ran
to raid his car for condoms. Holding back
the fireproof drapes, the yellowed cotton
nets, I watched, mesmerized: him,
his heavy body, half in, half out of his car,
like a bear rooting in a cave; me,
smearing honey on my palms. I like
hotel rooms with sewing kits and bathrooms
with fake marble and movie star mirrors,
the toilet roll tongues origamied to perfection.
In rooms like these, I am a woman
partial to Perrier, to mints, to having more
than two pillows on her bed. I have shivered sick
under torn sheets in a 10×10 room
off Hong Kong’s Nathan Road, watched my life
with the only man I have ever loved go down
in an ocean of tissue and take-out. I have stowed
bags of hash behind switch plates, have slept
under nets in a stilt-legged cabin on the shore
of the Andaman Sea, have listened
to the gong song of one hundred nights
as the drowned took their leave.
I have watched the drunk monks sing.
I have been bound to a bed with silk ties
and played that relationship upon the room’s
bark-papered walls, projected its jinks and turns
upon plastic frames round jungle flowers
and New York’s broken skyline. I like freebies:
doll bottles of pearly shampoo and conditioner;
a cake of soap, virgin curved to fit my palm; a pack
of pins, needles, and cotton to repair everything
that needs it. In the room up there on the fifth floor,
someone who is no artist painted the pictures,
and the manager has screwed them to the wall
so that no one can take them from him. That is love.
This is New Year’s Eve in Brunswick, Maine
and I have walked back from the bar alone,
my pockets tight with fifths of Grey Goose,
snow showcasing the silence, the occasional car
throwing light my way, like white water.
In the parking lot, a concrete moose twinkles,
his antlers laced with fairy lights, his back so low
you could climb on board, ride him clear to next year.
Or you could reason with me, persuade me to return
to the bar, to Auld Lang Syne. Or we could just go
inside, kiss the concierge who’s hunting under plastic
mistletoe, call the elevator, anticipate the room,
the tight-tucked bed, the 100 channels, the papered glasses
on the bathroom shelf, just begging to be used.



Negative Capability

I do not understand the people who believe
their dog loves them. I meet them in the park,
at PetSmart, in the vet’s waiting room,

and they cannot help but tell me of that first meeting
at the pound, the shelter, the breeders, and of how
the dog (this dog, this beautiful boy) did the choosing.

They tell me to look into his eyes, into his little face.
They are convinced those eyes hold love—the same love
they themselves have for their parents, siblings, children.

Last week, a friend brought a print to the house: a black dog
whose sky gazing Goya had captured on the wall
of his dining room and even this hound was not spared

the ignominy of our humanizing: critics would have us believe
the dog seeks divine intervention, release from the quicksand
of his landscape; fears abandonment, neglect, the absence of regard.

I cannot see it myself.
Today, dawn slowly returning yet again to light the yard,
my own dog lies outside in the dark grass. Inside, his bowl,
a brown sheepskin bed, a tin of crunchy treats, I who love him.

Yet he stays out there with the scrubby grass and all its insects,
the bony pines stalking forward from the weak-veined blue of the sky,
the garden shed moving by slow degrees from black to orange,

with the cows in the valley beginning to call to calves, the jackdaws calling
to other jackdaws, the sun inching up from behind the symmetry
of factory chimneys and roofs, the bulbs dirt-warm in the front border.

And I am sad. Not because I feel he doesn’t love me
enough to come in, to settle on the bed alongside me, to give me
his paw, but more because I am merely human and

have somehow lost my place in all this, my ability to be still,
to set aside my machinations, to be quiet with beauty,
to love all this like a dog.


previously published in the Connecticut Review