Mary Adams' first book, Epsitles from the Planet Photosynthesis, was published by the University Press of Florida. She earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and a PhD from the University of Houston. She is the recipient of an NEA fellowship for Poetry, and she works in Cullowhee, NC.





Mary Adams  '84


Cerberus at the SPCA

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente
   - Dante, Inferno, Canto 3

Just treat me like an ordinary dog
and don't be frightened.  Even though my bark
is trifurcated, strident trialogue

of me‑myself‑and‑I, it's made for stark
cacophony, designed for starker places
than this clearing house for orphans‑‑dark

caves like this, without the saving traces
of earth‑familiar memories and the smell
of beings bodied on the air, of faces

animate with interest and doubt.  A shelter‑‑
we also call it shelter, and in part
it was a refuge for the ones who welter

tortuously in sentient life.  The heart
at first delights in hell, for there the toll
of living is erased, the practiced art

of feeding is redundant, and the call
of other bodies silenced.  I digress,
as one dog with three voices often will.

In hell, I needed three throats to oppress
those souls, who came at last to crave
real appetite to kill the emptiness.

And now they crave forever.  Now they prove
the daily power of matter over soul.
I grew to pity them.  I could not stave

their hunger off forever, or patrol
their ranks with rage enough.  Their weeping eyes
once wept real tears which, when the hordes were whole

could sear their faces.  How should I despise
the shades' abject and desperate confidence
that I could save them?  For I recognize

that terror and that trust.  It made no sense
to them, like pets that cannot find their way,
that this was somehow justice, recompense

for drinking the abundance of their day–
Well, anyway, I left.  Strange how the power
I always took as natural died away

like thunder does when I forsook familiar
haunts, no longer hero of my home,
and knew the slavery of a passing hour.

I was a mortal dog. Stand closer, come‑‑
don't look away.  Although these throats once sang
together–one of body’s carnal dream

of pain, one of love and of the wrong
things that we loved, one of the single pure
wish we always die of‑‑that was long

ago. The reddest animals of fear,
the saddest winds of hell and all its big
fires are nothing to the fires here.


A version of this poem was published in Adams's book, EPISTLES FROM THE PLANET PHOTOSYNTHESIS (UP Florida 1999).