This is why I’m telling you about the weiner dog

it was a wiener dog turned my drunk daddy sober;
all them cats all them years couldn’t do it;
mama couldn’t do it no matter how hard she begged;
I couldn’t do it, and I was hands-down his favorite daughter,
the one who’d get up in front of his bleary eyeballs
those mornings after a big blustery blow
when he cursed every last one of mama’s relatives,
praised Richard Nixon like he was the golden calf
and threatened to drown my cat’s kittens. 
if his baby girl couldn’t do it, I’d ask myself
when I was 12 and sitting alone as his silent audience
while my two older sisters ran off to college
and mama stayed safe in her beauty shop
next to the house where the sound of hairdryers
and women gabbing drowned out daddy’s voice,
which I know blasted through the window screens,
then who on god’s green earth could do it?
he was a red wiener dog I saw at the mall in Hickory, 
jumping up and down in shredded newspapers,
his Dumbo ears flapping like wings as he yipped;
I pleaded and pleaded and convinced mama
to buy that wiener dog for me even though
we both knew it wasn’t a good idea, even though
we both remembered what happened with
the German shepherd dog named Duchess,
but I was 13 and sad and mama thought
that little wiener dog could comfort and cheer me,
could take the place of friends and family
who would do no more than keep silent about daddy,
hoping he would one day like magic quit drinking
and they could stop looking the other way.

we took the little red wiener dog back home,
paid more money for him than I could save up
in a year from my allowance, and I held him close;
daddy still got mad, clenched his teeth, turned
as red as the wiener dog and said take it back!
but we couldn’t because it was a clearance sale 
on wiener dogs that day at the mall, we told him, 
we couldn’t return him, so daddy believed us
because he’d been drinking all day and knew nothing
about shopping of any kind whether at the mall
or the Fairway supermarket up the street,
which is where mama had to run real quick
to get puppy food while I stayed home with daddy
and clutched the little dog to my chest even though
he squirmed and whined and drew a bed on daddy,
who was sitting in his butt-worn leatherette recliner
and making a lap the right size for a wiener puppy.

what with my sisters both run off to colleges and
leaving me to keep daddy calm all by myself,
I figured I would have to take the wiener dog 
to school and band practice and church with me
so daddy wouldn’t do harm to him even though
he wasn’t a kitten and we gave him the name
daddy picked, which was Theodore Rustivon,
and we called him Teddy and registered him proper
with the AKC even though it didn’t really mean much
but sounded good along with his fancy name:
this is our dog Theodore Rustivon, who is called Teddy
and who is registered proper with the AKC so there.

but it turned out that daddy fell in love with the dog,
teaching him to play a game called putt putt,
which involved Teddy laying sideways under a chair
with his paws sticking out from under the dust flap 
and daddy rolling a tiny rubber ball to him,
which Teddy would either (a) catch in his mouth 
then flick back out with a paw or (b) bat back out
if it came in under his chin and he couldn’t catch it;
either way he never missed and that tickled daddy
who loved to watch golf and play real putt putt
at the miniature golf course up in Lenoir
where he often took me and mama and laughed
when my pink ball got stuck in the windmill blades.

mama didn’t feature leaving Teddy with daddy
so she kept him in the beauty shop with her
and set up a Ritz-Carlton for wiener dogs there
to keep him happy and to allow all the customers
to make cootchy-coo noises at him as if he was a baby 
instead of a dog who knew he could get away
with peeing and pooping all over the shag carpets 
in my bedroom, which was in our house next door,
and chewing up Kleenex and Tampax from the trash
(daddy never quite got over finding chewed up remains
one Sunday after church and I learned a new trick
for making daddy go hide in the bedroom with his bottle
rather than sitting in his recliner and going to get a nip
from the bedroom closet in between bouts of telling me
why he wished I had been a boy named Wesley Kent
instead of a girl so he could beat the crap out of me).

one day it got to be that daddy couldn’t bear 
to be parted from Teddy and he got twitchy 
when mama kept the dog in the shop all day
so that daddy couldn’t play putt putt with him 
or hold him on his lap when he thought nobody
was looking, which of course I always was doing
because I was a true blue teenager and 
it was my job to be snoopy and see things
I wasn’t supposed to see like the church ladies
out in the shop reading True Story magazine
while they sat under the big hulking hairdryers
with their legs crossed real tight and their mouths
making an “o” shape and eyes big as eggs.

daddy would go out to the shop pretending
to check on mama but really wanting to pet Teddy,
who was usually curled up on a customer’s lap,
which was a place daddy couldn’t pet 
without consequences which involved mama
chasing him out with a rattail comb held like a knife,
and daddy would grab Teddy and run into the house
where he settled into his recliner, petted the dog,
watched golf on TV and before he knew it
he hadn’t taken a drink of Scotch whiskey all day.

those big round brown puppy dog eyeballs
and floppy little ears were miracle workers.

so anyway, you asked about that picture portrait 
of me in a fancy church dress, sitting on the floor, 
legs tucked sideways under the big loose skirt, 
which mama draped all around me in a circle 
like icing on a doll cake as I cradled the wiener dog 
very gracefully, if I might say so myself, in my arms
with my nails freshly painted the color Lauren Hutton 
wore in Vogue magazine the month before
—  you asked me why I was holding a little dog
in my picture portrait the year I turned 17
when both my sisters were with their new husbands
and mama was with daddy in their portraits and we’re all smiling
and daddy hadn’t had a drink of whiskey in two years and 
Theodore Rustivon got to be in his own picture portrait
all by himself lit just so to make his eyes look bigger
and I didn’t get a solo picture, but it doesn’t matter
because, as I said out loud to you just a minute ago, 
daddy hadn’t had a drink of whiskey in two years.

Daun Daemon

3 Questions for Daun

What was your process for creating this work?

For this piece, I “channeled” my younger self and let my mind (and fingers) run wild. That process was a break from my usual poem writing, which is to start with a concept, a working title, and some notes. I construct the poem from there, shaping content and tone as I develop the piece. For the wiener dog poem/story, I completely let the story take over. The voice came from back home in the North Carolina mountains, and the memories flooded in. At times, I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the persona! She made me laugh so many times that I honestly felt as if the poem was about someone else. This was truly a gift from the creative writing gods.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

As I wrote the piece, I struggled with deciding whether it should be a short story or a poem. I’m working on a memoir in poems, and the story I tell in this piece is, for the most part, an accurate depiction of life with my parents. It fits the memoir. That said, I’ve long been working on a collection of fictional stories based on my experiences growing up in Mama’s beauty shop. I could have shaped the narrative into a short story featuring Teddy. Because the words came to me in such a rush at times, I decided to stop questioning its form as I wrote. I knew it wouldn’t be a formal poem, and I knew it wasn’t going to evolve into a fully fleshed-out piece of fiction. So, the piece’s final shape was a surprise and something that the words themselves dictated to me. Letting the narrator (a young me) have her say in the way she wanted to say it was fun — and liberating.

What is the significance of this work to you?

As is likely obvious from the answers above, this poem/story is very personal. My father was a mean alcoholic, and my mother worked long days in her beauty shop to keep food on the table when Daddy was between jobs and drinking heavily. I was stuck between the two of them, often negotiating with Daddy and trying to comfort Mama; I loved both of them very much, but I was a very unhappy girl. The day Mama let me buy that little dog was truly a turning point for all of us. At first, Daddy resisted, but Teddy was persistent. That little wiener dog did something the rest of us couldn’t do, and — though he’s been gone since 1986 — I wanted to honor and thank him with this piece.

Daun Daemon’s fiction has appeared in Flock, Dead Mule School, Literally Stories, and Delmarva Review among others, and she has published poems in Third Wednesday, Typehouse Literary Review, Remington Review, Deep South Magazine, Into the Void, Peeking Cat Literary, and other journals. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry, Daemon is currently at work on a short story collection inspired by her mother's beauty shop as well as a memoir in poetry. She teaches scientific communication at North Carolina State University and lives in Raleigh with her husband and three cats. 

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