Last Meal

They chose strays
because strays
know what it is
to go for days,
without food,
and they can
tolerate the cold
better than any man.
But space sickness
is not the same
as Moscow malnutrition,
but if science says
that it’s the closest thing
then so be it,
I just hope they
fed her fit
before they shot
her skywards.

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Yazdovsky’s House

“I took her home to meet my wife and kids. They loved her. She has so little time left that I wanted to do something nice for her. Let her last memories on Earth be of living like a real pet, even if just for a day.” – Vladimir Yazdovsky

Laika pressed her nose to the window
and watched Moscow grew small,

felt grass beneath her paws on exit
tasted the breeze and savoured it.

She chased those tennis balls like stars
and barked at passing cars.

Did the children know the truth about her?
Did they look at their father

working their puppy dog eyes wide
and ask if they could take Laika inside?

The wife must have thought it through
felt some guilty about what her husband would do

as she patted the patch of white fur
shaved down for an electrode to be placed there,

calling her Kudryavka, wishing her well,
hoping she was going somewhere beautiful,

knowing Laika was right on the brink
of unfortunate immortality, trying not to think

about the destination too hard
as she watched her run around the yard.

Laika’s last day on Earth, man’s best friend
not wanting the excursion to come to an end.

Moscow (before)

They moved in packs,
grew accustomed to begging
for scraps. In the light of the moon
Laika lay shivering under bridges,
unfazed by the high level
of human activity in the city,
learnt to cross the street
with the crowds,
“quiet and charming,”
well fed and one of many,

before she became
the first of her kind.

Moscow (after)

“I asked her to forgive us and I even cried as I stroked her for the last time.”
– Adilya Kotosvskaya

She wakes up early to watch the sun rise;
there’s something about the way
it sweeps away the stars which helps.

Breakfast and a walk to the park,
where the children cast balloons
towards the sky and their dogs jump for them.

She watches, looks for similarities
and finds only small semblances,
the glint in an eye, a shade of grey.

It sets her thinking, and every night
she sees a speck in front of the moon,
like a small blip on a radar screen,

and she hears the Alsatian down by
Kazansky station barking into the night,
feels regret and has a hard time sleeping,

wondering if Laika mistook satellites
for stars, if she realised just how far
she’d gone in light of what they’d done.

And in light of what they’d done,
come morning she’s lonely,
stroking the fabric of her dressing gown,

wanting it to feel like trimmed fur,
watches the sun rise and softly cries
waiting for the day to cleanse her

the way it constantly rewrites
the canvas of that now attainable space.

Sonnet for Laika

Dog-owners of the world unite,
and for sixty seconds pause,
look skywards and recall
the fate of Laika’s flight,
and every fifteenth second
equates to a single orbit,
which means she lasted a minute
before lasting only as legend,
fated to circle the planet
for another half a year
before drawing in near
and disintegrating above it.

Consider her a shooting star,
and be glad to be where you are.

Limonchik

“We chose bitches because they don’t have to raise a leg to urinate, which means they need less space than males.” – Adilya Kotosvoyska

They put her in a smaller cage
every day for twenty days
in preparation for flight.

When they caught her smiling,
they took pictures, picked her
partly because of that smile.

It was a smile that could
sell a pack of cigarettes,
and did after her death.

Close confinement meant
that Laika learnt to avoid
urinating or defecating.

They fed her laxatives
to loosen her up,
called her ‘Little Lemon.’

They watched her go
and cheered.

4/4/1958

Fiery trail over Manhattan,
and the danger set in,
the reality of Russian reach,
nuclear implications.

Mothers clutched at the
shoulders of their sons,
kept one eye on the TV
and waited for news.

Dogs in suburban backyards
barked towards the stars
as if they knew, lamenting
Laika’s last light,

burning up in re-entry,
finally.