Culture: Stories & Lit
Our child was wee
Scared of the dark
Moved to the desert
Where scorpions lay in wait
Sophie came to us from the pound
A big beast and ferocious
Gentle she was not
Loyal to a fault
Her tail was strong
Her tongue always ready
To share in happiness
Or just uplift spirits
Sleepovers with little girls, Ringlets and pajamas
She was in the middle of the bed
Her stocky frame occupying the bed
For she was one of the "girls"
She has seen us through crazy mornings
Breakfast and homework and teenage meltdowns
Heartbreak and joy
Sophie was there rock solid, tail wagging, tongue lolling
A faithful companion
Stood beside us she did, as we bid our child goodbye
As she entered adulthood
With tears in her eyes, her tail down
Now she is old and lame
Bleary eyed, dribble in sight
But she remains the love of my life
What will I do Sophie when you leave me alone?
Culture: Stories & Lit
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
One morning a woman was walking on the beach
She turned toward the ocean,
She thought of all the animals
She wanted to save every animal,
She watched her dog running along ahead,
Hearing her voice, he looked back,
Culture: Stories & Lit
Poems: Valentine, Last Call and Leaving Alice
It's ten p.m.
When did I fall in love with you?
A cry of anguish as I leave the house …
I always say a careful goodbye before
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
My golden retriever, four years old,
on the edge of a green, rippling
slopes into the deep end, but he stays
in the person of his patient owner.
and my dog stares as if at the current
down her neck, an elusive girl
What does one do with a sin-bedraggled
What can be said to convict
respect, even—for dogs who know
Culture: Science & History
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
Wherever scent blows, this hound goes.
He trots the trail happily, lapping the green
in the trough of wind—coyote scat,
of opossum skin, the bear’s
the swoon of smells his canine art,
this stinking world.
Culture: Stories & Lit
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.”
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
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
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