Thursday, April 13, 2006

Be Here Now

The doggies are asleep on the sofa in the other room, and not at school today, so I am sitting in my office, listening intently for the sound of their tags rattling. I have to make this entry quick and short. Otherwise, it could be interrupted by growls and yelping. For our dogs, puppy entertainment is not unlike a Hollywood film: the days are filled with countless confrontations, endless brouhahas, and senseless violence, but it never really amounts to anything. No one gets hurt, no real conflict is ever resolved, and no moment is without action.

Dixie, an unregistered Jack Russell Terrier, has awoken. She is a mere four-and-a-half months old and already heavier, taller, and perhaps faster than Archie, an Italian Greyhound/Rat Terrier mix, who has recently recovered from that necessary surgery that makes all male owners cringe.

I return to my laptop, outside in our backyard. The puppies are sprawled in the spring sun, gnawing at cuttings in the thick green grass of our overgrown lawn. A woman walks down the city-owned catwalk that borders our property, and the dogs leap up, snarling and then barking their warning at this unwelcome woman they view as a trespasser. I shout the “shush!” command, but it has minimal effect. The woman keeps walking, and our dogs dash back to their spots, growling briefly at each other until they are settled.

They will spend the morning sniffing out weeds and rabbit droppings, two of their favorite snacks. Perhaps not. Archie just discovered the headless corpse of a small rodent—the very prey for which these dogs were bred. I shout “Leave It!” and he backs away, but Dixie, naturally curious, walks over and lifts what might be a shrew in her jowls. I shout “Leave It!” once again, but rather than listening, she dashes into the sun-drenched stretch of grass where she had been gnashing on sticks. I shout the command again and again in staccato as I chase her part way across the yard. She drops the thing—is it a shrew—for a moment, and I stand above it like an alpha male claiming a kill. But unlike Dixie, I don’t even want to touch the dead thing with its entrails spilling out from its neck.

For a moment, I have no idea what to do. The dogs weave and circle around me, pushing their muzzles past my feet, trying to get at the rodent. There is a part of me that longs to leave them to their natures, to watch them shred into the sinewy flesh, and devour the unfortunate rodent from dangling tail to neck. But I’m protective of these animals. I adore them. And thoughts of parasites and disease from a wild rodent silence my curiosity. Instead, I think of simply grabbing it and tossing it over the fence onto the catwalk. But unlike Dixie, I don’t want to touch the miserable dead thing. At last, I grab each of dogs and lift them up, cradling their small torsos between my arms and ribs. I carry them into the backdoor and leave them in the hallway behind the kitchen while I gather the supplies: a Ziploc baggy and a handful of paper towels. I dash outside, making Archie and Dixie wait behind the storm door as I gather the tiny carcass without touching it, then bury it in our trashcan.

When the rodent is secured in the purgatory of the trash bin, I open the storm door, letting the dogs bolt into the sunshine. They search the yard, sniffing for the rodent or something equally intriguing until, minutes later, they sprawl in the sun a few feet from me and gnaw on sticks.

But what does any of this have to do with poetry? It’s simple. Dogs, unlike people, spend their waking lives in the moment. They move from enticement to enticement. They rest when they are weary. They suffer pain when it is present. They are not burdened by the past. They are not overwhelmed by the future. They simply are.

And to relate to a dog, an owner must, like the dog, stay in the moment. Likewise, much poetry, through its artifice, allows the reader to inhabit a moment. It is the moment of the poem, or it is the simulation of a moment, perhaps from centuries ago. An excellent poem encourages the reader’s attention and demands presence.

Poetry is the puppy I never knew I had.


Post a Comment

<< Home