American Life in Poetry: All Dogs Go to Heaven

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Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

It is reassuring to know that other dog-owners struggle with the strange way in which we project our humanity on animals and ignore the implications of such an “unnatural” act.

Nikki Wallschlaeger’s new collection Waterbaby is packed with such familiar conundrums.

All Dogs Go to Heaven
By Nikki Wallschlaeger
Beloved, we call you brave
hoping the limit
for human reign is terminal,
your rehabilitation to be
dangerously free. Inside
your paws longings twinge
while you sleep. I awake
because you are newborn,
a terrifying responsibility
I’ll be human to you, lead
you on a leash, hate myself
for it, holler when you run
down the road when I let
you go. The truth is I love
watching you trot away
from me: you look like
yourself, whoever that is,
natural dog engaging in
an unnatural world making
stops to rebury your bones,
doing what dogs are allowed
to do, without me.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Nikki Wallschlaeger, “All Dogs Go to Heaven” from Waterbaby, (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Permissions Company, LLC and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.