Thursday, October 20, 2011

What the Dog Says

This morning, while on an archaeological dig through the ephemera of my life, searching for a possible post-related item, I ran across some poetry that a friend from Santa Fe introduced me to shortly after I arrived there. His love of poetry dovetailed nicely with mine, both of us having our favorites. During our occasional nights of poetry reading, he would sometimes bring out a poem by either William Stafford or Stephen Dobyns. When he ran across one he thought I would especially like, he'd make a copy of it for me to take home. So, while another idea percolates, I thought I'd share one with you that I saved from that time. I mean, who doesn't like a dog with good ideas?  And who hasn't stared into the refrigerator late at night, "as if into the place where the answers are kept?"

"How to Like It"

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dogs says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder.
Fixed in his headlights, the eyes of animals
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a trailer truck lit up like Christmas
roars past and his whole car briefly shakes.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest a while before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing? The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept --
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.

~ Stephen Dobyns

As I re-read this, John Updike's character, Rabbit Angstrom, came to mind, the night he went out for cigarettes and didn't come back. Perhaps if Updike had provided a dog for his character, one capable of talking some sense into him ... ah, but that would be a different tale. Thank God for Buddy, who's pretty good at keeping me in line. Most of the time.

The dog says, Let's go into the kitchen. Let's eat all the cookies in the cupboard.

The photographs of Buddy are mine.


  1. Stunning! I love this poem and so appreciate you posting it. Sort of captures me along the way. Not sure where to go or even if to go but always looking into that damn refrigerator for a sign.

  2. Put me in mind of this:


    by William Stafford

    South of the bridge on Seventeenth
    I found back of the willows one summer
    day a motorcycle with engine running
    as it lay on its side, ticking over
    slowly in the high grass. I was fifteen.

    I admired all that pulsing gleam, the
    shiny flanks, the demure headlights
    fringed where it lay; I led it gently
    to the road and stood with that
    companion, ready and friendly. I was fifteen.

    We could find the end of a road, meet
    the sky on out Seventeenth. I thought about
    hills, and patting the handle got back a
    confident opinion. On the bridge we indulged
    a forward feeling, a tremble. I was fifteen.

    Thinking, back farther in the grass I found
    the owner, just coming to, where he had flipped
    over the rail. He had blood on his hand, was pale—
    I helped him walk to his machine. He ran his hand
    over it, called me good man, roared away.

    I stood there, fifteen.

  3. Cletis, Thank you so much for your comments. Is it the human condition that makes us ask these questions, sends us on this seemingly eternal quest for understanding? "Not sure where to go or even if to go." Yes. I understand.

    That Stafford poem is so good. I remember the first time I read it, how I was struck by the way he captures that age so beautifully. I think he had an innate sense of his direct connection to the divine and listened at every turn. As good poets do. Thank you for including it in your response. It fits perfectly.

  4. Something to ponder and, thanks to Cletis, some extra to chew on. These both make me smile. Maybe they weren't meant to, but they do.

    All the cookies!!! ;)

  5. Yes, Rita, something extra to chew on, other than those cookies. ;)
    They both make me smile in recognition of this wonderful thing called life.

  6. Dogs have great wisdom. We really ought to listen to them more often.

  7. Hello Teresa:
    Humans really do complicate things. We do so agree that the simple wisdom of 'Man's Best Friend' is surely the most perfect way to keep on track. Just one look into Buddy's eyes, those deep, intelligent pools of good advice, and surely one cannot fail to be pointed in the right direction!

    We loved the poem, so perfectly complementing your thoughts today.

    As for looking into the refrigerator and finding the 'Key to Life', well in our case we are generally lucky to find an illuminated light bulb, and very little else!

  8. Whilst I was reading this splendid post, my dog walked into my room and said "time for a walk". Oh to have a face that was capable of such a rich vocabulary.

  9. Montucky, Yes, they seem to have a sense of things that cuts through all the riff-raff and gets to the essential.

    Jane and Lance, He's also the happiness enforcer. I cannot stay irritated or unhappy in his presence. He simply doesn't allow for it. I recall that dining for you does not involve the preparation of food. I am torn between my love of cooking and the desire to have someone always putting the perfect plate of food down in front of me. Sometimes,I fully understand your choice.

    I'm glad you liked the poem. I've been carrying it around in my life for many years.

    Alan, Sometimes, Buddy will sit in the porch and look at me then up at his leash on the ledge, then back and forth very slowly, so as to make certain I get the picture. He uses his face to great effect.

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked the post.

    Bob, Thanks! It looks like you and Lulu have some fine walks. Dogs know how to have a good time with such simple accompaniments - nature!

  10. That is a wonderful poem. I had never heard of the author before, but now I am going to check him out. I love the dog's ideas, so typically canine... :-)

  11. Bob, My apologies to you and Nat. Somehow I went with Lulu. How, I'll never know....

    DJan, Glad to be able to introduce Stephen to you. He has innumerable wonderful poems. Yes, dogs have fairly simple wants. :)

  12. A very nice poem, I may have followed the dogs advice.Mine always shares what I eat and do.

  13. I like this a lot. Lately I am more like the voice of the dog..."Let's just go back inside."
    It's the easier way to go since I've lost my 'get up & go' due to recent health annoyances.
    I like this line..."How is it possible to want so many things and still want nothing?"

  14. Steve, Our dogs make fine companions, don't they?

    LadyCat, I'm sorry to hear that you're dealing with health issues. I trust all will be well very soon. I like that same line very much. It seems to sum up my own feelings.

    Glad you liked the post.

  15. Poochies are our friends
    Canine friends until the end,
    United as one.

  16. Buddy is beautiful...and I'd listen to him about the cookies in the kitchen. Since I got back from Tn., Sophie has wanted me to take a nap &&& I took to her advise. Dogs are very smart...

  17. If we could only read our four legged friend's minds! LOL!
    Happy Weekend Teresa!
    xo Catherine

  18. Paul, Buddy is a true companion of the very best mind. Thank You.

    Lynn, Cookies and napping, always good canine advice. Thank You!

  19. Sometimes, I think sometimes he can read mine! :) And a Happy Weekend to you, Catherine!

  20. This is a powerful piece, not just about dogs, of course, but about the choices we make. Even those who don't have dogs might find some kind of internal voice to remind them to choose contentment.

  21. Love the post!
    Buddy is so beautiful!

    I agree with you, our dogs make fine companions.
    I miss so much my dear friend Flora, she passed away last July. If you have the time, please, click on "Flora" Categories to know my adorable companion.
    Have a nice weekend.

  22. I agree, Nancy, we all have an internal voice that would guide us to contentment if we listen. Thank You!

    Sonia, I am so glad you've left a comment. Thank You for your kind words. I'm so sorry about your loss of Flora. I have visited your beautiful blog and appreciate what you have there. I will be back again and again.

  23. Wow. That poem is awesome. And, that's saying something, because outside of Mary Oliver, I tend to hate poetry. Inside Mary Oliver ... it's too dark to read.

    I will keep that name and look for more.

  24. Oh thank You, Ducky. I needed a chuckle. Especially after that "movie review."

  25. I love the Dobyn's poem. I really identify with it. The older I get the more there is this urge to move.. anywhere. To fly, run.. find something.
    My dogs keep me grounded.

  26. Hi Connie, It was that line about wanting so much yet wanting nothing that seemed to sum it up so poignantly. Buddy keeps me grounded, too. The value of contentment....

  27. I love this poem Teresa! I hadn't come across Stephen Dobyns before..It's so good, sometimes with longer poems I can drift off a bit but this one just held me right until the end.
    I REALLY enjoy your blog! It gets you thinking.

    Thanks for commenting, all your visits don't half cheer me up,so many thanks. x


  28. Hi Jane, I'm so glad the poem held your interest. I do know what you mean about longer poems, but the dog's "lines" were so clever and it just spoke to me on so many levels.

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I trust you're having a good weekend and feeling better.