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About this poet

Walt McDonald was born on July 18, 1934 in Texas. In addition to serving as an Air Force pilot and teaching at the Air Force Academy, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1966. He is the author of twenty collections of poems, including Climbing the Divide (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003); Great Lonely Places of the Texas Plains (Texas Tech University Press, 2003, poems paired with color photos by Texas State Photographer Wyman Meinzer); All Occasions (2000); Whatever the Wind Delivers: Celebrating West Texas and the Near Southwest (1999; with archival photos selected by Janet Neugebauer from Tech's Southwest Collection), which won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; Blessings the Body Gave (1998); Counting Survivors (1995); Where Skies Are Not Cloudy (1993); All That Matters: The Texas Plains in Photographs and Poems (with photographs selected by Janet Neugebauer; 1992); Night Landings (1989); After the Noise of Saigon (1988); Rafting the Brazos (1988); and The Flying Dutchman (1987). He has also published a book of fiction, A Band of Brothers: Stories from Vietnam (1989).

Mr. McDonald has published more than 2,300 poems in journals including American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, First Things, Journal of the American Medical Association, London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Among his many honors are six awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, including the Lon Tinkle Memorial Award for Excellence Sustained Throughout a Career (2000), and four Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Walt served as Texas Poet Laureate in 2001. He is Paul Whitfield Horn Professor Emeritus at Texas Tech University.

Jogging with Oscar

Walt McDonald, 1934
When I take my dachshund jogging, boys and widows gawk 
and stop tossing balls or lopping limbs off shrubs.  They call 
and point at long, pot-bellied Oscar trotting like a rocker horse, 
tongue wagging, dragging on grass when he hops over skateboards, 

long muzzle wide as if laughing, eager, sniffing the breeze. 
All Oscar needs is a tree like a mailbox, postcards from dogs 
he barks at at night, and odd whiffs he can't place.  When he stops 
and squats, up runs a neighbor's collie tall as a horse, 

stalking like a swan meeting an eel, muzzle to muzzle in dog talk, 
collie tail like a feather fan.  Wherever we go, we're not alone 
for an hour, devoted hobblers on the block, the odd couple-- 
long-legged bony man jogging along, obeying the leash law, 

the black, retractable nylon sagging back to Oscar, who never balks 
or sasses when I give the dangling leash a shake, but trots to me 
desperate for affection, panting like a dog off to see Santa, 
willing to jog any block for a voice, a scratch on the back. 

I've seen that hunger in other dogs.  I watched my wife 
for forty years brush dogs that didn't need the love he does. 
When my children visit, my oldest grandsons trot with him 
to the park, that glossy, auburn sausage tugging and barking, 

showing off.  The toddlers squat and pat him on his back. 
They touch his nose and laugh, and make him lick them on the lips. 
Good Oscar never growls, not even if they fall atop him. 
He was a gift from them, last Christmas, a dog their pop 

could take for walks and talk to.  Oscar would have loved my wife, 
who spoiled and petted our old dogs for decades, coaxing them up 
for tidbits on the couch beside her, offering all the bliss 
a dog could wish for, a hand to lick, a lap to lay their heads. 

Oh, he's already spoiled, barks at bluejays on his bowl, 
fat and lonely unless I'm home.  But how groomed and frisky 
he could be if she were here, how calm to see us both 
by the fire, rocking, talking, turning out the lights. 

For Grandfather, in memory of Grandmother Anna

From Blessings the Body Gave, published by Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Walt McDonald. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

From Blessings the Body Gave, published by Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Walt McDonald. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald was born in 1934 in Texas. In addition to serving

by this poet

poem
My wife takes salt for starters, and rusted strands 
of barbed wire, the iron Grandfather left. 
Chips chunks from a salt block mired in sand, 
that tongue-rubbed marble artwork of the West, 

anywhere cows roam--not buffaloes that lick 
their salt from cactus and the bones of coyotes. 
Takes bones, a skull,
poem
Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped 
and brittle.  I can't bring my father back. 
Legs crossed, he sits there brash 

with a private's stripe, a world away 
from the war they would ship him to 
within days.  Cannons flank his face 

and banners above him like the flag 
my mother kept on the mantel,
poem
I never knew them all, just hummed
and thrummed my fingers with the radio,
driving five hundred miles to Austin.
Her arms held all the songs I needed.
Our boots kept time with fiddles
and the charming sobs of blondes,

the whine of steel guitars
sliding us down in deer-hide chairs
when jukebox music was over.