Waterdogs are a kind of newt that lived in the waterways and forests of southern Oregon. The story behind the poem was my step-father, newly returned from Vietnam Conflict, who bit the head off a waterdog at a party. They’re notoriously poisonous. Years later, people were still talking about the day Ol’ Al bit the head off that thing. The poem is meant to be jarring. It was written well before January 2007, but that’s the earliest version I could find of it.
Ankle deep, ice-cold river rocks
Break like beer bottles under
Tender feet. Grabs a waterdog,
Not a salamander. Dammit. Maybe
People poison; like antifreeze for
Dogs. Eyes its eyes, all yellow;
Pupils like opals. Just ain’t right
How human it looks—infant fingers,
Like babies he buried in ‘Nam.
Waves newt high over chilly river
Bed. They’re watching now. Whispers Sorry
Little guy. Molars mash. Neck snaps.
Waterdog fluid is sour, sticky—tongue
Elixir. Pukes two six-packs, a
Fifth and life-lozenge lizard head,
Legendary drunk party rebel shouts
“Hey you–Gimme one more beer!”
Laughs at five soft swimsuit
Screams and ten carp-mouthed teens.
They never really forget the day
When you become their newest God.