Culture: Stories & Lit
Poems: The Sound of Dogs Breathing
IF NO OTHER LISTENER Except myself and the dogs, would I write Poems for them? Rhythmic yips and a growl, Refrain of woofs, Their names repeated twice, A high yowl sliding down a rail To a quavering whine. And they do like some arrangements Better than others, they go from fast to slow. Lots of range in the howl, And the yaps, staccato, snappy as orders, Until I can’t continue their poem Because they are standing on my chest Licking my face, adding impromptu yelps. Of course I would write for them, Would take their critique seriously, Would collaborate with them on a dog poetics Which would change of course with every passing litter. Poems about the chase, about the snap Of jaws, about doggy humping and birthing, No poems of death or poems of writing. A lot might be said of such a poetics If no one were listening, only me and the dogs.   THE SOUND OF DOGS BREATHING The sounds of dogs breathing in the house, Their breaths rising and falling In darkened rooms. If late at night I pad to the kitchen Following the night lights And a vague thirst Paw pads follow me, A change in the rhythm Of inhalation, a sigh. Back to the bedroom, the breaths Relax, become regular. The night’s activity has shut down, And I am not alone.   THE WOLF he can hardly walk for all the myth he’s bearing, werewolf and night marauder, bloody-mouthed killer, though we remember the wolf of Perugia St Francis made a deal with, no more eating people and you’ll be fed, and the wolf became a model citizen, was mourned at death, and buried at the city gate. lone wolf, wolf-whistle, don’t wolf your food. my father had a wolf-dog as pet, not at home in either house or pen, inside knocked over tables and lamps, at night howled outside light leaking from his teeth, until my father opened up the chain-link gate, invited him in.


Culture: Readers Write
Poem: Paw Prints

One morning a woman was walking on the beach
with her dog.
While she was walking she remembered
all of the animals that had come into
and gone out of her life.
The woman stopped, but her dog walked on.

She turned toward the ocean,
and saw in the waves
the faces of every animal she had ever known.

She thought of all the animals
who would never see the ocean,
never run free, never know kindness.
She thought of all the animals who,
like her dog, would trust without having reason,
love unconditionally despite hardship,
forget pain and move forward.

She wanted to save every animal,
touch every life,
lead others to end hardship, and pain,
and suffering.

She watched her dog running along ahead,
his paw prints alone in the sand.
Calling to her dog, she began to walk
toward him, her footprints beside his.
It was then she realized,
her dog was the one leading the way.

Hearing her voice, he looked back,
and patiently waited for her to catch up. 

Culture: Stories & Lit
When Did I Fall In Love With You?
Poems: Valentine, Last Call and Leaving Alice

Last Call

It's ten p.m.
and my dog is telling me what to do.
You can't go to bed, she says,
until Davey has his pills
and I can't
until you have your cocoa,
so Sit!  Stay!
till I tell you it's okay.
That's better.
Good girl.
I know everything
that's done in this house
and the mouse
that lives under the tv
is my friend.


When did I fall in love with you?
Was it when I saw you bundled
nose to bottom with your brothers
or the moment you decided to detach,
explore, and I admired your intellect,
aplomb?  Or was it when at last
you discovered – not me, exactly,
but my toes – and waddled over
for a nibble, spaniel mine?
You found I had two feet,
finished one, then started on the other.
Licking my toes became your sacrament,
sandals that led me into the barn
that hot June morning, my salvation.

Leaving Alice

A cry of anguish as I leave the house …
Alice, my dog of thirteen years,
is ninety-one in human terms and nearly
blind --  her world, the vet says, seen
through dark glasses.  I used to celebrate
her independence, but now she clings
as if each separation means forever.

I always say a careful goodbye before
going down our path to get the mail,
tell her we’ll meet outside as I go
out the front and she through her own
back door – but still she cries until
I’m in her view and she in mine.
We hold our hearts together, she and I.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Poems and Umwelt
Celebrating National Poetry Month Canine Style

It’s National Poetry month, and the goal since 1996 of this tradition is for people to see poetry all over the place. That means that people are placing poems in restrooms, on billboards, online and yes, even on dog collars.

The goal is for people to realize that poetry is everywhere, and part of that is understanding that the subjects of poetry are endless and anyone can write a poem. Of course, love is a prominent theme, as is the beauty of nature, but anything that interests a poet is a fair topic.

Naturally, many poets write about dogs, because they fall into the category of love, the beauty of nature and anything of interest to a poet. I particularly like one dog poem I discovered this month because it explores variation in perception.

It’s natural to assume that what we can sense is what’s out there, but each species has a very different view of “what’s out there.” Another way to say that is that every species has its own perceptual world, which is called the species’ Umwelt. That’s a German word that is most commonly translated as “subjective universe.” Jakob von Uexküll came up with this term in 1907 to describe the phenomenon of organisms having different sensory experiences (even if they live in the same environment) because of varying capabilities of perception.

The poem is by Lisel Mueller and is called What The Dog Perhaps Hears.

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.

Do you have a favorite dog poem? Have you written canine poetry?

Culture: Stories & Lit
The Great Unwashed

My golden retriever, four years old,
has not yet learned to swim.
He is standing chest-deep

on the edge of a green, rippling
pool on the West Fork of Cold Spring.
The sandstone floor of the pool

slopes into the deep end, but he stays
rooted in the shallows, even though
an encouraging lifeguard stands by

in the person of his patient owner.
Come on, I say. Fetch! I say.
The stick floats in a sparkling eddy,

and my dog stares as if at the current
prom queen whose hair is coming
unpinned in moist tendrils

down her neck, an elusive girl
so far beyond his mud-stained nose
he dare not ask her to dance.

What does one do with a sin-bedraggled
high church dog who shrinks
from the rite of total immersion?

What can be said to convict
him of the rigid error of his ways?
It is a time, alas, to preach tolerance—

respect, even—for dogs who know
their chosen limits, who refuse
to get in over their heads.

Culture: Science & History
Myths: Loyalty Rewarded
Ancient Sanskrit Myth

Just as scientific research is confirming that, indeed, the canine/human friendship goes back many millennia, it’s a good time to look at what the ancients have to say about the subject. For example, take the Mahabharata, the Sanskrit masterwork thought to be the longest-ever epic poem. Not only is it 1.8 million words, it’s also one of the oldest, with origins in the 8th century BCE.

It has been likened, by many experts, to be a combination of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” the Bible, King Arthur’s tales—it is also the only one that begins with a dog and ends with one, as noted below. The part of the poem that got our attention tells how loyalty to a dog opened a pathway to heaven for the epic’s hero, King Yudhishthira. Toward the saga’s end, the king renounces his throne and, with his wife and four brothers, sets off on a final pilgrimage across India to reach heaven in the Himalayas. Along the way, Svana, a stray dog, joins the group.

During the journey, the king’s brothers and his wife die. Finally, Yudhishthira, with the dog at his side, nears his destination. Heaven’s gatekeeper and king of the gods, Indra, arrives in a golden chariot and invites Yudhishthira to pass into heaven. But when Yudhishthira asks Indra if Svana may accompany him, Indra tells him that dogs are not allowed.

Yudhishthira then says, “Lord Indra, Svana has given his heart to me. I cannot leave him. Rather than reject him, I will reject heaven and remain here with my dog.” Indra replies, “Your words prove that you truly are worthy of a place in heaven. Come in, and your dog is welcome, too.” At that moment, the dog is transformed into Dharma, the god of righteousness and the father of Yudhishthira! The king had passed the test Indra put to him, confirming his worthiness and achieving his reward through his fidelity to his dog.

This Hindu lesson is remarkable for many reasons, but foremost because it speaks to the loyalty we owe to the most loyal of our companions.

Culture: Stories & Lit
This Hound
for Creek

Wherever scent blows, this hound goes.
Flop-eared mutt, three times snake bit,
Bound by the black wet leather of his nose.

He trots the trail happily, lapping the green
hills over & back again. O! to be
this dog, pissing & crapping, drinking

in the trough of wind—coyote scat,
dense fur snagged on outcrop rock,
pine duff, the frag & slough

of opossum skin, the bear’s
bleached bones, musky underneath
of river stone—

the swoon of smells his canine art,
rotting offal the pleasure of his days.
Unlike me, he loves

this stinking world.
With all his wagging heart
he barks rough praise.

Culture: Stories & Lit
One Truth of Dogs

Late November the corn is in, stubs

litter the ground, frozen and thawed

a dozen times since Veteran’s Day.

Gopher mounds poke up then collapse

across the lawn. This morning I find

bear scat halfway down the drive,

coming or going I can’t say. While

I stand and think, Don Armstrong’s

truck bounces across the rows, belching

exhaust. Whatever is he doing?

Then I see his dog Evie at the wheel,

the windows cranked down, her ears

flapping in the wind. A crazed smile

pushes hips across her teeth. I stare

in disbelief until my dog bumps

against my legs and says, “You weren’t

ever suppose to see this.”

Culture: Reviews
Dog Songs
Lyrical Poetry

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver is arguably one of the most beloved living poets in the English language. She is certainly, according to the New York Times, “America’s best-selling poet,” and the reasons for that are numerable. Renowned for her love of nature, Ms. Oliver writes exquisite, lyrical poems that not only capture the beauty of, say, a rushing waterfall or a blade of grass or a flock of wild geese; her poems also transform those moments of witness into something magical, even spiritual. Oliver’s poems, in other words, remind the reader of how much there is to love in this world.

Nowhere is this love more evident than in Oliver’s latest collection, Dog Songs, which includes new material as well as some of her most famous poems about her many beloved dogs. We meet Bear, who, running through the snow, writes “in large, exuberant letters/a long sentence/expressing the pleasures of the body in this world.” And Luke, a former junkyard dog who came to love flowers: “Briskly she went through the fields,/ yet paused/for the honeysuckle/or the rose/her dark head/and her wet nose/ touching/the face/ of every one.” And Benjamin, a formerly abused dog who was afraid of many things. To comfort the dog, Oliver “fondles his long hound ears” and tells him, “Don’t worry. I also know the way/the old life haunts the new.” We also meet Sammy, infamous in Oliver’s hometown for roaming, and Ricky, a rescue from Cuba with lots of attitude.

And of course we meet Percy, a rescue whom Oliver immortalized in her celebrated “Percy” poems (in 2008, 2,500 people gave Oliver a standing ovation when she read some of these poems). Oliver, who described Percy as “a mixture of gravity and waggery,” often wrote from his point of view.

This excerpt from the Percy poem “The Sweetness of Dogs” made me cry:

… Thus, we sit, myself
thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.

There isn’t room in this review to quote every remarkable poem. All I can do is encourage you to buy this book and savor it. Who else but Mary Oliver can bring dogs to life with such tender, touching imagery? These poems will make you smile, laugh, cry and nod your head in delighted agreement.

This exquisite collection closes with an essay entitled “The Summer Beach.” Here, Oliver summarizes the many reasons to love dogs. “The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, of the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of the forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him … Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased.”

Oliver—who, I should add, is a fan of The Bark and has been published here many times—concludes with: “What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be without dogs?”

I would add: What would the world be like without Mary Oliver’s poetry?

If You Are Holding This Book
You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world—
and there are plenty—very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes.
—Mary Oliver

Culture: Readers Write
A tribute to Ike on Your 7th Birthday!

[a poem]

When you entered our lives who would have guessed that our humble abode would become truly blessed! 

When I first saw your face, those gigantic feet...My firsts thought was “holy crap” how much will he eat?

Fast-forward to age 7:

Mounds of your discarded fur on the floor, a fastidious cleaner I am no more!

Horizontal streaks of mud on the walls...I guess that’s the payback for having “snipped” off your balls! (sorry ‘bout that)

Your snoring that keeps us awake through the night...the way that your drool stains my pants—right at thigh height (not a good look)

On our walks:

The horror in the eyes of the people we meet...and then hearing them exclaim “Oh my God—he is SO sweet—your tail that offers them infinite wags...you’re the sole reason I’ve started to hoard plastic bags!

So—on our next trek, with your nose to the ground...could you please stop and think

...that when you chomp on that horse poop—it makes your breathe really stink!

In closing:

Ike, you are 140 pounds of love and pure joy and it is an honor to consider you as my 3rd little boy!