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.