Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Today, I was caretaker for the puppies. I had to take Dixie to the vet for the last of her puppy shots, so I slept on the sofa until the last possible moment, and then escorted her and Archie into their respective travel carriers. Archie, the more high-strung of the two, actually loves going to the vet, so he comes along for the tail-wagging ride.

When we returned home, both of the dogs were restless, so I took them outside to cavort in the still-long grass of the backyard. During an intermission in the violence, which seemed to veer now and again toward actual aggression as Dixie protected her still-sore right haunch, I found our phone and dialed my father’s new number. It had been too long since I’d placed a call to Texas.

My step-mother picked up the phone, and after the typical greetings, she told me that their dog—a 2-year-old toy poodle—had died. He had a heart attack. The vet, apparently, could not tell them why or explain what had happened. He was, I believe, the third poodle they’d lost within the last 5 years. Even though they are both retired and live on a fixed income, they’ll find another puppy soon. They’ve already found a breeder, but with rising gas prices, their mortgage, and numerous trips to physicians, I find it difficult to imagine how they will manage. But they will.

I’d like to offer a little help—perhaps for Mother’s day. After all, I suspect that they still need someone to occupy that space once reserved for me: they both need to be caretakers. Sadly, I don’t think my wife and I can afford to offer any assistance at the moment.


At the risk of being caught in a rhetorical fallacy, every one who has ever written a poem has written about a treasured pet. I know I have. In fact, this trend is so widespread that many instructors of creative writing classes will forbid students from turning in a poem on the loss of a pet. In such an approach, the death of our dear "Spot" or "Fluffy," is relegated to a blacklist of topics including cancer, abortion, and how much you hate your poetry instructor.

Such a poem can easily slide into maudlin melodrama. In fact, to write such a poem takes an understanding of the techniques of poetry and the history of poetry that most beginners simply don’t posses. So imagine yourself as an instructor. Imagine that you never provided such an injunction. Now try counting the number of cliches you would be forced to read if every student you taught over the course of a 5-year period insisted on writing about that long lost pet.


I think I’ve lost the poem about my first pet—a parakeet. Unfortunately, I’m certain that two copies are extant somewhere in the world. I wrote the poem as part of my thesis during graduate school and seem to recall that it was about more than that pet. It was also about my father—a subject of countless poems. Yet, in the poem, despite very real evidence to the contrary, the father had passed away, and, if I remember correctly, the image of the parakeet—its feet balled in tiny fists—led to an image of the father breaking the earth with a rusted spade. That image, I think, led to a reflection on the father’s eventual death. So, when I wrote it, I assumed that the poem was deeper than a simple lament on the passing of a parakeet. I have no idea if it was.

Now, if you have the time or the inkling, try writing that poem about your long lost pet. Focus on the details that somehow make that pet unique from the millions and millions of pets that populate the country. Narrate the most bizarre anecdote that sets your pet apart from the world’s bestiary. Think about why you would want to write about your pet, and most importantly, why a reader would care enough to not turn on the TV or start surfing the Internet.

Maybe the exercise will be cathartic. Maybe a sound in a single line will trigger a torrent of memories. Maybe, you’ll read the poem, and think, what have I done?


After I spoke with my father for a while, it started to rain. I hurried the puppies inside, and fixed myself a sandwich. Against all reason, both Archie and Dixie did not clamber up onto the sofa and flop into sleep. Instead they peered at me as I pulled the deli meat and cheese from the fridge, and sat politely on the edge of a rug in the dining room. I gave in and offered a piece of soprasetta to both dogs before finishing the complex construction of two nice Italian sandwiches on white bread.

When I’d finished making my lunch, Archie was out of sight. I called for him, but he didn’t respond. I searched the office and the spare bedroom, but still I couldn’t find him. I finally spotted him crouched beneath the dining room table coughing. He’d lost the soprasetta I fed him, along with bits of lunch and breakfast. I rubbed my hand along his fur and lifted him onto the sofa, as if this could correct my mistake. Nevertheless, he curled down beside me and slept.

After lunch, Dixie joined us on the sofa, and we curled together sleeping off the day, and though both dogs had rough days, we managed.


Right now, electronic music bleeps around me and Michelle and the dogs sleep upstairs. I’m exhausted and drawn to faulty hypothetical questions. I find myself making the same kinds of equations I once made when I knelt on 12-year old knees, asking for evidence of God. Right now, if I could choose between buying my father and step-mother a puppy and never publishing another poem, I’d choose the former.

Of course, such a choice is a fallacy. We all manage somehow.


Blogger Les said...

A quick reference for fallacies:

3:24 AM  

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