to take his dog for a walk,
though he could have carried on sleeping
until nine o'clock, ten o'clock,
until whenever he felt like,
but instead he gets up at seven,
to please his dog,
so his dog can be fit and healthy.
It's as if his dog is his child.
He feeds the dog,
he washes the dog,
he takes the dog out,
he looks after the dog,
maybe because his dog
is more loyal than his children,
his friends, even his wife,
if he had one. Maybe he knows
that if everyone leaves him,
the dog will still be there
to look after him, to keep him safe
from intruders. Or maybe he's got the dog
because he doesn't have anything else
to do all day, and it keeps him busy,
which stops him remembering
things he doesn't want to remember.
The phrase "a man and his dog" is often used to refer to men who use dogs as part of their working lives, such as bomb disposal experts or the drug squad. Ihtisham Mushtaq ironically describes a very different kind of relationship. The poem develops unhurriedly, unfolding itself out of the first two lines. This style suits the obsessive preoccupation which is the heart of the poem - a preoccupation powerfully suggested by the repetition of "dog" in the list beginning "He feeds the dog...". The list would have more impact without the line preceding it ("It's as if his dog is his child" ), which I would suggest cutting. The use of line breaks is particularly effective, for example the revealing "even his wife,if he had one." The last line is exactly right; the vagueness of "things" is justified by the context - if they were named, they would have to be remembered.
Ihtisham Mushtaq, aged 14, receives 'Strictly Private', an anthology edited by Roger McGough (Puffin Teenage). Sent by Paul McLoughlin of Isleworth and Syon school, Middlesex. Cliff Yates is deputy head of Maharishi school, Ormskirk, Lancashire, and Poetry Society poet-in-residence for secondary education. He has published 'Jumpstart: poetry in the secondary school' (Poetry Society) and a collection of his own poems, "Henry's Clock" (SmithDoorstop), winner of the Aldeburgh Festival poetry prize for the best first collection of 1999. Please send poems, preferably not more than 20 lines, to 'The TES', Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, including the poet's name and age, the name of the submitting teacher and the school address .The 'TES Book of Young Poets' (pound;9.99), a selection of poems from this column with an introduction by Sian Hughes, can be ordered by phoning 01454 617 370. A set of posters is available for pound;3.99