Sharif El Gammal Ortiz


The Human Canine by Way of Sestina

“No, not again!  Not another relapse into fear!

Why this appetite for fatigue, this leakage of power

in exchange for what’s hidden under your hide? 

            ‘Help me survive’

is all you allow me to spoil---then why would my fingers, fury’s

blood hounds, hunt me on your terrain---when noses get whetter

            at home, where aggressors

are never challenged, but taken to pet as dogs?

“To scent what isn’t mine, but crossed with that of a dog’s,

is admitting these welts, proof the characters of fear

are running foul through the air, can only be seen by true


but I’m afraid to open my mouth and breathe!  What if the power

of such a stench, expanding from a living belly, lulls my fury

to sleep, and I’m not awake to remind myself to survive?

“How does a mind, tuned to a fixed frequency of thought, survive

the onslaught of your gaze, blank, too willing to stare, dog-

ging me until I fill its space with fury, and, when fury’s

had its fill, look upon myself as free and immune to fear---

detached from every show of defense or act of power

that brands me prey for those who feed on dogs---aggressors?

“When my demise is finally voiced, by the most inactive of


I’ll be prepared to join them in their anthem, singing: ‘Survive,


my little pet, survive for all your weight!  Your yelps no longer

            rouse regret, but power

us to hate!  For in each man there stirs a dog,

and in each dog a fear,

the weaker one implores to clog what master’s furies

“‘hear!’  It’s when I think too much of sleep I don’t; and since my


being muzzled of its own accord, I can’t re-tread my aggressors’

song; I only taste the clamp I chain across the mind I know you


But isn’t fear mutual, doesn’t it grow cold and shrink inside its victims, is this the way it survives---

like a long forgotten disease left untreated---like a dog,

who, left stranded, follows a man’s commands, his footsteps, and                        

            believes he’s the one left power-

“less, incompetent?  No!  fear does more than overpower,

it secludes you, leaves you singing to yourself, while you expect


to take hold (useless tool), to turn humility, which sanctifies, into

            humiliation, which damns.  I do this when I beg my dog,

who’s no different than I, to keep quiet: ‘For with every yelp you

            hold in you slaughter one of my aggressors!

And you and I will both survive,

consoling ourselves, and ourselves solely, through our fears.’”

If human dog could speak, and say, “I’ve been aggressed,”


of every breed would power themselves and confess to fulfilling


but none so far have dared to, nor has canine man survived a night

without repeating to himself:  “I refuse to conjure fear---

            I refuse to conjure fear!”

The brain to whom I owe my thoughts is dead

The brain to whom I owe my thoughts is dead,

and in its rot, the clock I tongue to time

the warmth it takes to orphan me, I spread

myself against its stench, and pray the climb

of my descent remains my own disease;

for on this heap, where every nerve and vein

upholds itself through what its holder sees,

I sink between each ending of my pain,

and plant that which no other one can write;

so now that I have found a point to make,

the mind I’ve never used withdraws from sight,

and finds itself alone, too clear to fake

the side wherein it uses to forget---

the thought of whom is just an un-cleared debt.


2 Poems


My name is Sharif El Gammal Ortiz.  I've been writing poetry for eight years and have experimented rigorously in fixed forms.  Although I was born in Puerto Rico, and consider myself Puerto Rican, I'm also very proud of my Egyptian heritage, which I uphold just as steadfastly as I do my Latin roots.  In the future, I hope that the English language will serve me, or rather I it, as a means of creating a poetry which is freer, more loving, and as effervescently possible as the restraints of the English language would permit.