Retrieving is uncertain work

Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons license.

Lab Lines
Robert Benson

Retrieving is uncertain work.
Fetch him bright fragrant feathers dead,
He grins and pats his gratitude.
But barf a scented toad beside his bed,
He screams, slams doors and me.

A still warm, gay and bloody duck,
He kneels and gathers like a grail.
But bring up week-old possum warm,
His voice goes grim; his face turns pale.
It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.

Balls or bumpers, birds and toads,
I think it should be none or all.
Last night I urped a knot of tennis net;
Picky bastard won’t ever get the ball.
I’m keeping the next duck too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Dog poems = always good for a Friday laugh. But it’s also catalyst for a bit of reflection: Isn’t it interesting how vastly our perceptions of appropriate/inappropriate vary when compared with our dogs? It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.


No muzzle to hold me

Kino at White Sands, NM, by moominsean. Creative Commons license.
Kino at White Sands, NM, by moominsean. Creative Commons license.

Retired Greyhound, I
Natalie Kusz

Nights, the house grows larger, open
floor widening toward gray
indistinct walls. Here, then, I find
the cotton rabbit lying still—
one plush foot stretching long on the carpet.
I leap in, bite, fling it wide
and follow, pursuing now,
no muzzle to hold me
from catching it, catching it.

Walking on Tiptoe

Deerhounds running in the snow
Deerhounds in the snow. Source unknown. Click for link.


Walking on Tiptoe

Ted Kooser

Long ago we quit lifting our heels
like the others—horse, dog, and tiger—
though we thrill to their speed
as they flee. Even the mouse
bearing the great weight of a nugget
of dog food is enviably graceful.
There is little spring to our walk,
we are so burdened with responsibility,
all of the disciplinary actions
that have fallen to us, the punishments,
the killings, and all with our feet
bound stiff in the skins of the conquered.
But sometimes, in the early hours,
we can feel what it must have been like
to be one of them, up on our toes,
stealing past doors where others are sleeping,
and suddenly able to see in the dark.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So, again, not exclusively a dog poem, but I like musing on this concept, that we humans may bear some deep evolutionary connections to the animals we once were and thus unburden the way that we move.

Hope that you have a peaceful and joyful weekend ahead of you. Step lightly!

The Morning Hills

Flickr user: MarilynJane, via Photopin. Creative Commons license.
Flickr user: MarilynJane, via Photopin. Creative Commons license.

The Morning Hills

W.S. Merwin

As those who are gone now
keep wandering through our words
sounds of paper following them
at untold distances
so I wake again in the old house
where at times I have believed
that I was waiting for myself
and many years have gone
taking with them the semblance of youth
reason after reason ranges of blue hills
who did I think I was missing
those days neither here nor there
my own dog waiting
to be known

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Really into W.S. Merwin lately (I’m late to the party). I love those closing lines: “my own dog waiting/to be known.” Isn’t that what our own dogs are often waiting for?

Hope you have joyful weekends!

Review: Dog Songs

Dog Songs
Dog Songs, poems by Mary Oliver.

I’ve always enjoyed Mary Oliver’s poetry, and I’ve featured two of her dog-related poems on this blog. She consistently finds great joy in watching her dogs experience the world, and I love the reminder in her poems to slow down and simply observe your dog.

I was excited, then, when I heard some months ago that Oliver was coming out with a collection of poems that were just about dogs, hence, Dog Songs.

This is a sweet collection of poems about Oliver’s dogs, which are joined by these lovely line illustrations (example on the cover). I was, naturally, interested to see that one of her dogs (not sure which one) appeared to have been a German shepherd. Oliver has also had shy hounds and little curly-haired mixes.

I’ll admit that I was expecting more “hard” poetry than this collection offered. The poems are very simple, and sometimes I found the sentiments rather predictable — but maybe that’s just because I, more than the average reader (but not you, because you’re willingly reading a dog blog!), live in a world that’s already awash with thoughts about dogs.

But Oliver is perceptive about the inherent nature of dogs. As in this thought, upon watching her dog scarf down his food:

Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble. A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog is also a hedonist.

This poem, “Luke,” (paired with a drawing of a German shepherd) is representative of Oliver’s habit of enjoying dogs enjoy the world:

By Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

In short, Dog Songs is a sweet, enjoyable little volume, and it’d make a great gift for any dog lover.

Disclosure: I was NOT provided with a review copy of this book; I got it myself from the public library! I just like to write about dog books that I read.

Poem: “Spring,” by Mary Oliver

Lounging dogs
Rainer and Pyrrha in the yard.

By Mary Oliver

I lift my face to the pale flowers
of the rain. They’re soft as linen,
clean as holy water. Meanwhile
my dog runs off, noses down packed leaves
into damp, mysterious tunnels.
He says the smells are rising now
stiff and lively; he says the beasts
are waking up now full of oil,
sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams. The rain
rubs its shining hands all over me.
My dog returns and barks fiercely, he says
each secret body is the richest advisor,
deep in the black earth such fuming
nuggets of joy!

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

So it really feels more like summer here these days, but I love this poem from Mary Oliver, about a spring walk with her dog, and the simple delight that dogs take in the little things.

Hope you all have peaceful weekends!

What the Dog Perhaps Hears

We know dogs don’t hear that well, but it’s still fun to imagine. A thoughtful and engaging poem by Liesl Mueller, featured in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Alive Together: New and Selected Poems.

“Sea of Gold,” by Lokidayo.

Liesl Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.

We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn’t a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?

For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy holidays to everyone! We will be traveling from now until the first week of the new year, so there will be a dog blog hiatus, but we’ll come back with lots of pictures and stories, I’m sure. Hope everyone has a peaceful, relaxing, and dog-loving holiday season!

Animals Are Entering Our Lives

It’s not exactly a dog poem, but I think it is so striking and thought-provoking. Poem by Liesl Mueller, featured in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Alive Together.

Click for source.

Liesel Mueller

“I will take care of you,” the girl said to her brother, who had been turned into a deer. She put her golden garter around his neck and made him a bed of leaves and moss. — from an old tale

Enchanted is what they were
in the old stories, or if not that,
they were guides and rescuers of the lost,
the lonely, the needy young men and women
in the forest we call the world.
That was back in a time
when we all had a common language.

Then something happened. Then the earth
became a place to trample and plunder.
Betrayed, they fled to the tallest trees,
the deepest burrows. The common language
became extinct. All we heard from them
were shrieks and growls and wails and whistles,
nothing we could understand.

Now they are coming back to us,
the latest homeless, driven by hunger.
I read that in the parks of Hong Kong
the squatter monkeys have learned to open
soft drink bottles and pop-top cans.
One monkey climbed an apartment building
and entered a third-floor bedroom.
He hovered over the baby’s crib
like a curious older brother.
Here in Illinois
the gulls swarm over the parking lots
miles from the inland sea,
and the Canada geese grow fat
on greasy leftover lunches
in the fastidious, landscaped ponds
of suburban corporations.
Their seasonal clocks have stopped.
They summer, they winter. Rarer now
is the long, black elegant V
in the emptying sky. It still touches us,
though we do not remember why.

But it’s the silent deer who come
and eat each night from our garden,
as if they had been invited.
They pick the tomatoes and the tender beans,
the succulent day-lily blossoms
and dewy geranium heads.
When you labored all spring,
planting our food and flowers,
you did not expect to feed
an advancing population
of the displaced. They come,
like refugees everywhere,
defying guns and fences
and risking death on the road
to reach us, their dispossessors,
who have become their last chance.
Shall we accept them again?
Shall we fit them with precious collars?
They scatter their tracks around the house,
closer and closer to the door,
like stray dogs circling their chosen home.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Apologies for the lack of posts lately; life has been so busy and I have really not had time for blogging. I will still be updating Pyrrha’s adventures and our progress with her, but the posts may be a little less regular than they were. Hope that you all have excellent weekends!

A poem: “Pyrrha,” by James K. Baxter

My husband’s aunt is very literate and excellent, and she sent us this poem she found in her collections, by the (apparently crazy and controversial) New Zealand poet James K. Baxter.

When you give your dog a name as strange as “Pyrrha,” it is equally strange and wonderful to stumble upon a mention of that name–even if the context has positively nothing to do with your dog.

For what it’s worth, here’s a strange poem with our dog’s name on it.

This Pyrrha? (“Pyrrha and Deucalion,” by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione.)

By James K. Baxter

As kites rise up against the wind
Out of the past I summon Pyrrha,
Girl of plaited wheat, first
Mentor of love revealed in dying.

She has come back with a burning-glass
To whom once my thoughts clung
Like branches under weirs tumbling:
That freedom led to the lion’s jaws,
A mind riddled by illusion.
The autumn sky is hers, a flooding
Trick of light on bars of broken cloud.

The streetlamp tells me where she lived.
Re-entering that square, untidy room
Where cups lie mixed with fingerbones
I find her again. Forehead too full,
Opaque blue eyes, bruised archaic smile
Dug from under shards. Pleasure,
A crab gripping the spine;
A mouth lent, not given;
Hair like marram grass, that made
On the short sofa, a burglar’s tent.

Rib from my side, Pyrrha,
I who was young am older,
The wound healed, the flush of seed dry.
You cried once: “I am drifting, drifting.”
Self-pitying, too often drunk,
I did not see your need of comforting.
Pestle and mortar pounded us
Early to a dry volcanic dust.

Happy puppy
Or this Pyrrha?

She might be our “first mentor of/Love,” but I can assure you that she is NOT “too often drunk.” Our Pyrrha at least has that going for her.

Compare thee to a dog

The intense gaze of an Australian shepherd. Source: Flickr user sarzc.

Thou sayest thou art as weary as a dog,
As angry, sick, and hungry as a dog,
As dull and melancholy as a dog,
As lazy, sleepy, idle as a dog.
But why dost thou compare thee to a dog?
In that for which all men despise a dog,
I will compare thee better to a dog.
Thou art as fair and comely as a dog,
Thou art as true and honest as a dog,
Thou art as kind and liberal as a dog,
Thou art as wise and valiant as a dog.

— Sir John Davies, epigram to In Cineam (1594)

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Way to tell ’em, Sir John Davies; time we started showing dogs some respect with our aphorisms.

Because my “DOGS” board on Pinterest was getting almost out of hand, I decided to create a corollary for it: “Woman’s Best Friend,” a collection of photographs and artwork featuring women and their dogs. If you are also a crazy dog lady, I think it will make you smile.

Happy Easter and Passover, or, just happy weekend if you observe neither!