Ode to Jack the Russell [prose poem]

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jack_the_russel

In times of crisis someone always rises from the heap to lead the way.
In this case, Jack the Russell was the one to join the fray.
Often it’s the ones who look least likely to be heroes who defy all odds;
While those who brag beforehand fall to pieces when the action
on the ground or on the stage in life’s grand theatre gets too hot.
Somehow, the state of modesty bestows a later case of bravery
when even dogs can step up to the plate, regardless of their fate.

And now to tell our tale in which you must suspend all old beliefs.
If Houhynyms and Donald Duck can walk, talk, waddle, dream and fuck
then Jack the Russell (rest his soul) can lead an army, deal, cajole.
We live in special wrestle times; this broken world needs heroes,
avatars, as well as bold adventure and incendiary rhymes.

The government had just decreed that every dog not living in a home
approved by them is only fit for early death by any ruthless means.
For some that meant their vigilante instincts could be exercised at whim;
while others felt the lottery had given them a win, as all the dogs
which they could catch and club to death were chopped up into pieces
fried in grease and packaged as pure beef for sale in English stores.
“Made in Romania”. Canine sale insania. Cash ‘n Carry whores.
Already eaten Cash ‘n Carry horse. So why not serve up dog?
One man’s meat is the same man’s poison – never mind the source.
Now they’re out to kill the streetwise orphaned dogs by force.

Jack the Russell wasn’t having anything of that. A circus dog by trade
he’d jumped through hoops of many kinds throughout his 1times8ly life
and now his coup de grace was teaming up with homeless cats
to form a broad united front of creatures under threat – their slogan
(thought up first by Jack who modestly denied the fact): “Lest they Forget”.
His strategy was simple: Show the beastly humans how their world
would fall apart without the cats and dogs who grace their cosy hearths.
“We’ll learn them” [sic], said Jack (who’d lived with circus folk who lacked
an edyukayshun, having mostly gleaned their knowledge on the tracks.
Though true to say this dog had briskly taught himself to read and write
but Jack had still not wholly got his spoken grammar or his manners right).

So Jack approached a place he knew where cats hung out;
glad to be as small as them, he hid those teeth within his snout.
On seeing him they arched their spines, their hairs stood up in hissy fits.
Most just ran away, as Jack stepped forward, raised his metaphoric hat,
then spoke in his most gentle growl: “I come in peace. It’s time for us
to work together as a team”. No sooner had he spoken, catty leader hissed
in his direction: “In your dreams. We just don’t need your doggy schemes”.
“It’s true”, said Jack. “We’ve fought each other far too long, considering
we sing the same “domestic-creature-comfort-for-the-humans” song.
Something’s happened in our canine world. It could be you next, mate,
seeing it’s us who are the pets while you are classed as vermin by the state!
We need each other; can’t we form a truce? Look carefully in my eyes
not at my teeth and then the innocence of this, my plea, you will deduce”.
She slowly strode his way, her back now flat. She sat herself before him
and around her rump her tail did wrap. “I do believe you now”, she said.
“I heard what happened and, to truthfully tell, we cats rejoiced to think
that all you dogs would go to hell. But what you say has moved me and
I think you say it well. Now tell me more about your canine plans
then to my nervous feline friends I can recount your words so they
will know just where, with you, they stand in this precarious land”.
So Jack explained his master plan. You should have seen him drool
with sheer excitement – his frontmost paws were swirly-whirling
in the bleakly frosty night-time air, while in that catty lair the others
all began to creep more closely to this little dog, until at last, they,
in a growing circle, listened to his fevered breathless monologue.

The next night, after they had bonded and – uniquely – coalesced,
every single homeless dog and cat descended like a silent cloud
on all the unsuspecting neighbourhoods of cool autumnal Bucharest.
In ways we humans cannot understand (not having been endowed
or blessed with such communication skills as dogs and cats have
always naturally possessed), the homeless throng imparted to
their homeful furry friends precisely what the government intends.
The plan was now to get (with purpose) every homely pet to leave
their human families and all the normal vanities to show their hosts
what they would miss when Rover, Fido, Sooty, Smudge and Max
left just an empty space where they once were, becoming ghosts.
And so they did. The homish dogs and cats were moved on seeing
how the state removed their homeless siblings from the gutter.
Even ones from posher homes were in a flutter when they heard
the news and realised there’s no way that they could condone
this Slaughter on the Streets while they just languished in their
everything-provided, life-path-predecided, soft upmarket suites.
Felcan protest now was on. Soon the people would be woebegone.

Throughout those hours of darkness every home in Bucharest
which housed a cat or dog was very soon bereft of all those pets.
“Now maybe they’ll understand how much they need us in their
empty, careless, double-crossing, ugly, lowlife, red-lip-glossing,
trophy-petland, private vet scam, lap-dog snob flam”, stated Jack
with spirit as he oversaw the exodus – those snaking lines of
creatures leaving town, with not one pooch or pussy left around.

“Don’t be bitter, Jack”, said lady cat (whose name was Princess
and she certainly was that!). She made to stroke him gently
with her paw but Jack held up his leg, as if to say “No more”.
“I need to keep this spirit for a time so I can see this pantomime
through to its end. Human creatures use their pets as petit
bourge extensions of themselves. They’re living through their
kids and pets as if they’re ego jigsaw pieces – mere caprices –
chessboard pawns to put some kudos in their lives, like some guys
do with trophy wives, parading them around the street, pleased
to have some lapdog at their feet. They do it with cats too,
though cats don’t play ball quite the same as dippy dogs.
I guess the genes and Pavlov are to blame. But think of all those
posing Persians, Ragdolls, Russian Blues, Ragamuffins, Donskoys,
Burmese, Dwelfs and Toygers too”. Jack soon began to sharply
bite his tongue on realising that the lady cat who led the throng
was Ragamuffin too. “I camp it up for them a bit”, she said. “It’s
what we do to make sure we survive. Just like you dogs who feign
that cuteness which those humans love so well. Rolling on your
backs and all that jive”. At which our Jacky fell apart with laughter.
Soon the two of them were rolling madly on their furry sides.
You’d think there’d never been twixt cats and dogs a Great Divide.
But then some slinky Dobermann appeared and changed the mood.
In noble tones (as Dobermanns are wont to do) he gave the news:
“There’s not one Felcan left in town. Empty hearths and rugs abound”.
Jack the Russell felt that frisson-buzz he’d last known as a puppy-child.
The throng was now migrating to a vast and isolated forest to the East.
Pantelimon is the name. Time had come to now reclaim the wild.
“Mission done!” sighed Jack with some relief. He turned to Princess:
“Do you think I’m being quite naïve in holding to my firm belief that
hearts and minds will soon be changed so dogs will no more be a
firing range for governmental kill-decrees?” Princess coolly smiled
and tousled Jack’s left ear. “I think your faith in change is touching.
Mingled with your cynical assessment of the human race, it gives
a necessary counterweight”. He looked at Princess in those slitty
black mysterious eyes and said “It’s good to have a friend so wise”.

Meanwhile, back in Bucharest, people were awaking to a dogless/
catless home. Some just thought their pets were taking time to roam.
Others, having pets more spoiled, felt that there was something wrong,
sent out parties just to search and bring them back where they belong.
Time for them to be obsessed about their family accessories.
No one to lick them, entertain them, warm them, love them
unconditionally – even heal them (that’s now proven scientifically).
Having furriness to stroke is soothing for the soul. Now they would
appreciate the role these creatures play in human lives and hopefully
create a huge outcry about the massacre of strays – the latest craze.

Padurea Pantelimon was awash with Felcan life. Unprecedented
in the world of cats and dogs, there was there not a trace of strife.
Dogs had even called an amnesty on catching rats. For cats it was a
little harder to suppress their penchant for their genocide of mice.
But Princess was evolved enough to take the lead, so soon the
throbbing woodland zone, though so completely overgrown,
was peaceful and expectantly caught up in patient wait-and-see.
They gathered in a clearing in the south-west corner of the wood.
Those from homes had carried food in bags to share with those who
had been living on the streets. Most had never savoured such a treat
and many tears were shed that day. Yes, dogs can cry and even cats,
though cooler than their canine counterparts and not so outwardly
emotional, have feelings which they keep within – resulting from
their discipline. “I envy you”, said Jack. “Cos cool cats feel no pain”.
“Don’t be fooled by that”, said Princess. “Everything’s inside with us.
I envy you : so able to express yourself – wear your heart upon
your tail, faithful to the very end, you’d chase the holy grail for your
master/mistress. Hard to comprehend”. “Guess it’s in the genes”,
said Jack. “But I’ve a theory DNA can change. Momentous things
we undergo or do can somehow rearrange our chromosomes.
I read that in a journal in the papershop until I felt the owner’s
boot smash in my ass. I looked him straightly in the eye and said:
‘Don’t think that dogs are only good for taking in their mouths
their owners’ papers to and from the house. Some delight in
reading too and don’t take kindly being kicked by you’. At which
this thoughtless (in both senses) man picked up a bucket filled
with water which he threw on me. So I bit his bum then ran”.
Princess now was most amused. But then they both became
aware that all the dogs and cats assembled there were staring
at them silently, expectantly. Jack, always the doggy gentleman,
motioned towards Princess to express some words. “This wasn’t
my idea”, said she, “originally. That credit must go all to Jack.
But when I heard his carefully thought-out words, I never felt
a pull so strong. Everything he said made sense. I realised that
all my life I’d looked through some perspectives that were wrong.
Enmity is learned behaviour. Why should we be enslaved to
mental processes which only serve to take us to an early grave?
I give you Jack the Russell, who showed us all a better way!”
She turned to him; a sound came from the crowd of yelps
and howls and sundry growls (for dogs and cats do not applaud
with claps and whoops) and Jack began to speak his mind.
“My friends (for that is what we truly are), it may seem strange
to say but had it not been for this kill-decree made by the
governing body of this land, we would not be as we are today
and on this hallowed ground we would not so firmly stand.
A beauty of the lesser things of life – which outwardly appear
as if they’re hassle, bad and strife – is that when truth and
love and power forges will into a way, then alchemy comes
swiftly into play and then they are transmuted into goodly things.
And therein lies a lesson for us all. We can transfigure anything
we wish if there is goodwill there to do so; and so with us there is.
Do not think it’s me who’s done this here today; for it is we!”

Just then, a crack like breaking branches came from somewhere
in the trees and every Felcan head was looking round to see.
Sunlight glittered through the leaves and someone lightly sneezed.
A woman and a man emerged into the space behind the crowd
of dogs and cats. They felt like space invaders there. Some growls
were heard and hisses too but Princess quickly said “Let there be
none of that!” The humans looked a bit afraid but that was
now eclipsed by their surprise. They slowly made their way up
to the front; glidely moving through the sea of dogs and cats of
every size. To see what must be thousands of these creatures in
one place, addressed by Jack and Princess would affrighten any
ordinary member of the human race. But this brave girl and bloke
were not your normal Joe or Jane and Jane it was who loudly spoke:
“We come in peace to you today. We are not hunters working for
the state. To them, we’re reprobates! We have a little magazine
investigating weirdness and all the strange phenomena today.
We knew as soon as first reports came on the news about your
disappearance and the woeful lack of woofs and mews that
something big had happened in our town and now we’re here
to warn you there are people out who want to track you down”.
“How did you find us here?” said Jack. “That was easy”, said the
guy. “So many cats and dogs leave trails. It was easier to track
you here than follow snails!” This caused some mirth within the
crowd and Jack and Princess too were chuckling aloud. The man
said “We are here to help in any way we can. Please share with
us the content of your plan. For we can act as go-betweens as
very few on earth can converse in the way we do with you.
We speak with creatures all the time and even talk to trees.
You’ll need interpretation if you want to please and be received
and have a strategy which gets you out alive from in this wood”.
“You’re right”, said Jack. “I hadn’t really thought of that. My
only aim was to instil a sense of shame for making a decree
which sentenced every lonely, roamly homeless dog to death”.
The girl’s eyes opened really wide. And with surprise she said:
“So that’s why you’re all here today! Now I see and understand!
You homeless ones persuaded all the other dogs to leave
their homes, becoming homeless just like you in solidarity
so owners will appreciate what they forget that dogs can do
though overfamiliarity. Now I see! But tell me, why the cats?”
Princess quickly answered that. “This handsome Russell turned
up on my doorstep, talked some pep, won my heart (‘in more
ways than just one’, she said, aside, which Jack took in his stride)
and other’s too and here we are, together, one, in front of you”.
“We’re so impressed!” the man said (tears now welling in his eyes).
And then the girl (who didn’t look unlike a cat herself, the way her
features seemed inscrutable and wise) said: “I am Floare Puternic
and my lovely friend is Mari Visare. At your faithful service, in
whatever way you wish it, we are”. Then the man said “Let us go
with representatives from all you mortals here and meet with people
who have clout and see if we can work some useful treaty out”.
After small discussions here and there, it was decided that our Jack
with Princess, Mari and Floare, would venture from the wood and
see if they could keep our canine friends from going to the abattoir.

After walking for some time, the foursome party came upon a road.
A shot rang out from shrubbery and then began a tragic episode.
For Jack the Russell had been hit. His little body, having not much
volume to accommodate a bullet’s blow, was torn in two and from
his side the blood did slowly, redly, flow. Floare and Mari cried out,
shouting to the bushes on the far side of the road. Princess sprang
into a tree, her fur on end, hardly able to believe what she could see.
Her new-found friend in pieces on the ground. She loved that plucky
little nowly torn-up hound. Floare and friend had run across the road.
“What have you done! What have you done!” she cried. “That little
dog’s a hero and you shoot at him and now he’s died”. From out
the bushes three large men did come. Then voices chimed from
down the lane and cars with flashing lights of orange, blue and red
appeared upon the fatal scene and stopped where Jack lay dead.
As Princess watched from in that tree, the vigilantes (that’s the 3)
put down their guns when challenged by the men in cars while
Mari told them what went down and Floare spun her body round
in disbelief, experienced a wave of grief and went to see where
Princess could have gone. Mari told them nothing of the hidden
clearing in the wood or where the dogs and cats now stood. He
asked them with authority to take him to the mayor and he would
subsequently share with this Oprescu all the knowledge that he had
about the disappearance of the dogs and cats of town and make
some bold suggestions to avoid a situation where all law and
order’s broken down. Police had now been made aware that homes
and houses everywhere had been bereft of feline/canine pets.
They said that in the media was speculation rife. “Alien Abduction?”
was one headline in the press. “They Voted with their Paws!”
exclaimed another with distress. Mari saw the papers on the back
seat of the car. It’s clear there was an uproar but, so far, he and
Floare were now the only human ones who knew the truth and
they would not disclose such information to a bunch of uncouth
apparatchiks of the state. They knew they’d have to woo the
mayor before it was too late. The vigilantes went off in another car
with stinging words still ringing in their ears. There’s no way that
they should have fired at dogs with human beings there for that’s
against the law, as it appears. The policemen bundled Jack into a bag
but Floare, witnessing his little body treated like a household rag,
begged that Jack should not be handled in this way. Instead she
wrapped him in her overcoat and cradled him (his little snout she
gently stroked) as blobs of tears fell from her face throughout the car
ride to the mayoral place. Floare had counselled Princess to return to
where the Felcan horde was waiting with some patience in the wood;
to linger there awhile until they should return with further news
(which she was wildly hoping now would turn out for the good).

Mari and Floare were brought before the district mayor. Because
of the furore regarding cats and dogs, he was almost in despair!
They explained to him the story as they knew it. The mayor was
flabbergasted and they thought they nearly blew it! “How can
mere dogs and cats organise such a thing as that?” “Because the
times really are a’changin'”, said Floare. “We’ve been investigating
things like this for years. We’re on the cusp of some extraordinary
change; happenings of this sort are just the start. Take your place,
Oprescu, in our history’s heaving heart. Use your influence and
power to repeal this hateful law which condemns dogs who are
blameless, affectionate, chaste and pure. You’ll go down as a hero
and a star alongside Jack, who gave his life for higher things,
but yet was killed in that attack.”

To cut this lengthy story short, the mayor was mighty moved to act.
Meetings happened, laws were changed and all the dogs went back.
From that day forth the people never took their pets for granted.
Streetlife dogs were soon found homes and visitors who came to
Bucharest assumed it was enchanted. Princess cat was taken in by
Mari and Floare. A statue then was built of Jack, a model for the ideal
pet, and at its foot the inscription was, in gold: “Lest they Forget”.

I wish I could in honour say: “They all lived happily ever-after from
that day”. But though, for now, there surely was a time of peace,
for many, sadly, merely, that’s the space between two heinous wars.
And so, my reading friends, although my spirit at this outcome soars,
I watch and wait, yet know it can be done and know also that genes
can change and chromosomes be radically moved and rearranged
and consciousness be realigned and hopefulness be redesigned
and endless wars, no longer needing to be lost or won, can wane;
and killing fields of dogs or men should not pollute our world again.

© Alan Morrison, 2013

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