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!
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:
Luke By Mary Oliver
I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head
and her wet nose
of every one
with its petals
with its fragrance
into the air
where the bees,
heavy with pollen,
not in the serious,
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—
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.
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.
Pyrrha 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.
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.
As I’ve said before, I’m not one who likes to read sappy stories about dogs. This is why I don’t watch dog movies. The dogs are always exceedingly and supernaturally noble and then they always get killed in the end. So over that.
I like stories about real life–which is why this collection of essays about living with dogs was perfect for me. Dog Is My Co-Pilot is a curated series of memoir-like writings by respected authors, pulled together by the editors of The Bark magazine.
Many of the stories were very funny. Many of the stories were very sad. Almost all of them (with a few exceptions, namely Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ story and Jon Katz’s and the super-dramatic New Age guy) were great. The essays successfully avoided the sappiness that so often permeates dog-human narratives.
Some of my favorites: I loved the essays by the wonderful poets Maxine Kumin and Mark Doty. My husband is a poet and has always encouraged me to read more poetry. You can imagine my delight when I learned that such well-respected poets like Kumin and Doty were also avid dog lovers. Kumin’s essay “Mutts” is a sweet and reflective essay on the dogs that have passed in and out of her life, particularly on her New England farm. “Accident,” by Doty, is a heartbreaking story about loss and grief, connected to both his dog and his partner.
Another essay that was very moving to me was “Sit. Stay. Heal.” by Lee Forgotson, written in the aftermath of 9/11. Forgotson was living in New York at the time, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and wrote this essay describing her fear and depression in the months following the terrorist attacks. She was holed up alone in her apartment with her dog, waiting for her husband, a broadcast news anchor, to come home. The essay ends with this heart-rending moment: Forgotson, her husband, and their dog go out to eat. The dog is tied to a table and wanders off slightly to sniff a young man at a nearby table. When Forgotson looks back in a moment, the man is on his knees with his arms around her dog, weeping. It’s a touching and beautiful story of that gift animals can give us that no people can.
Regardless of your thoughts on over-emotionality, this is a collection of essays that is sure to make you feel the whole range of emotions that we feel with dogs: Joy, elation, frustration, rage, sympathy, grace, and redemption. Just to name a few. I recommend this collection very highly and I’m thankful I was able to find a copy myself.