Walkin' the Dog

The Arkansas River gets no respect

Not like the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Colorado

The Arkansas River gets no respect

But it’s a mean piece of water, my friend

 

Especially where it flows from Oklahoma into the state which bears its name

It’s wide and deep and big and bad

The currents surge in all directions at a sprinter’s pace

They define the water like scars on a boxer’s face

 

We’re there on the pier in Fort Smith

Having dinner by the window

The Arkansas

Angry and flooded

Is right below us

This restaurant is big but it’s not like some upscale palace

It’s not like some upscale palace on a pier by a yacht club

No, it’s old and it’s moldy and in need of repair

Like the boardwalk in Atlantic City

Like Cannery Row

Like General Motors

It’s old and it’s moldy and in need of repair

And we’re the only ones there

 

The waitress finally came

Her name was Mindy

She’d got there late

To get to work she had to drive through the rain across Fort Smith

Arkansas’s second largest city

And the state capitol of boarded-up businesses and foreclosed homes

 

The waitress finally came

Her name was Mindy

She tried to be friendly but her heart wasn’t in it

Not mad, not sad, just

Defeated

 

We could see the bridge across the river

The bridge across the river where a train was waiting

Waiting for the high middle section of the bridge to be lowered so it could get across

“There’s no one on that bridge,” Mindy said as if she were talking about herself

“There’s a guy far away and he just pushes a button and it comes down”

Then she perks up

Tells us a story

“The train yard on the far side of the bridge is a great place to run your dogs

Last week our boxer went into the water there after a goose

She got caught in the current, almost didn’t make it back

I had my shoes off and I was fixin’ to go in after her”

 

We stared at the water beneath us

Boiling and angry

Then we looked at her with disbelief

She caught our thought and hurled it back

“Believe me, I was goin’ in

I’d do anything for that dog”

 

Now her bright eyes went back to dim as she shifted her gaze

From the bridge to the empty restaurant

Table after table

All dressed up with no place to go

“You’ll be my only customers tonight,” she said

Her pain was out there in the open

The humidity made it smell

“People stay in when it rains,” my wife said, trying hard to sound sincere

“Probably real busy here on the weekends,” I added

“It’s been like this for months” she said

Only the dullness in her voice kept her words from slitting her wrists

 

But I saw something else in her eyes

A longing

A longing for a destination that she couldn’t yet describe

“Show me the….!!”

Show her the what?

She couldn’t say ‘cause she didn’t know
Who will reach her? Who will teach her?

Will it be some preacher

Stealing in the name of the Lord on late night TV?

Will it be the busboy?

The busboy

Rising ‘bove the minimum by selling clouds of joy

 

Or will it be you? 

What can you do for Mindy?

This girl next door

This miss of America

This statue of liberty welcoming you to her state of mind

Can you describe a horizon

That will get her eyes up off her shoes?

Describe possibilities that will make melodies of her blues?

‘Cause when she said she would dive into the raging water

She wasn’t talking about a sacrifice

She was just willing to pay a price

For a happy ending

A glass at least half full

 

Mindy will follow you anywhere

If you speak her language to show you care

If you use words so right

That she’ll want to take a chance

Use words that are beats and can make a square

Dance

Words without distance and a bit of romance

Words universal

That make feelings flow and thoughts unleash

 

Mindy

She’ll follow you anywhere

If you speak her language to show you care

Mindy

She’d do anything for that dog

What will you do for her?

 

Will you take off your shoes and go in that water

To make sure she isn’t swept away?

 

 

Poem / 2009