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An Occasional Word

Daizy, Growing Old

Daizy at Rest

You've probably seen a print of Andrew Wyeth's "Master Bedroom"—his watercolor of a dog sleeping on the bed. It looks like an old dog to me: the frayed look of its face, the deep quality of its sleep. The simple room looks like my grandparents'—the dark turned wood of the bedposts, the modest pillows and fringed bedspread. What you don't see is the human that lifted that dog up to the bed, because it can no longer make the jump by itself, and who is keeping an eye out for when the dog wants to get down, and who will hasten in to lift the dog down onto the floor again. 


To have a dog, we say to each other, is to make an appointment with grief. There is no way around it; we mostly live longer than they do. But somehow a dog's old age seems to come on so suddenly. I knew my Daizy was getting up there—she's 13 years old and has been my companion for ten years—but this last month has reminded me that I won't have her company forever.


One August morning she was using only three of her legs. She didn't want to get up. Once up, she limped gamely but was clearly in pain. I gave her a painkiller and sat with her on the kitchen floor and laid a heating pad over her hips. I felt each toe and toe pad carefully, feeling my way up her leg, gently manipulating her joints, trying to figure out what was going on. By the end of the day she would gingerly reach that foot to the ground, which was at least a bit of progress.


For the next month we made frequent trips—2 or 3 visits a week—to the vet for treatment. Everything happened at once: her hips were arthritic, her knee was swollen. She got a urinary tract infection and her bowel was messed up. She couldn't eat; she limped; she cried out in pain. I was lucky: even with a local shortage of veterinarians, we found wonderful care. Now, a month later, she's on the mend. She's eating, she's walking, and she's not in pain. Last week, she even did a play bow.


She's on the mend, but things are different. She loved to run, but I can't let her off the leash to run anymore. She won't be able, on our trips to her beloved McGough's feed store, to rear up on her back legs to lay her front paws on the counter. She's leaving, to her evident embarrassment, little accidents around the house that need cleaning up.


There's a new tenderness between us, too. She grunts now, sometimes when she's moving around, and sometimes for no apparent reason. She endeavors at all times to keep me in her diminishing sight. She follows me from room to room. If I put her food down and then leave the room, she gets distracted. Her little worried face will appear beside me as if to say, "Where did you go? What was I doing, again?"


She sleeps deeply, as if she is completely spent, as if she has run hard all of her life and can finally lie down. If I disturb her, she raises her head, confused for a moment, still half in the dreamland for which she is bound.

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This is my Meadow

This is my meadow. It's only a beginning meadow. At first glance you might think it looks kind of ratty. But my front yard grows an astonishing number of plants. Dandelion of course, and clover, but also yarrow, plantain, sedum, hawkweed, fleabane, evening primrose, and yellow wood sorrel. Those are only the plants whose names I've learned over the last few years of observation. There are countless mosses and plants I don't yet know. All of these are deemed by gardening websites as weeds worthy only of chemical destruction. But the bees forage happily in their flowers, and I'm fascinated by their variety.

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Cardboard Boat


Yesterday I wrote without writing. I did actually start to draft a poem. But then I went across town for an appointment. I came back home and planted a few flowers, for spots of color in the yard. I printed out a draft essay and taped it on the wall and looked at it. It needs something. What questions wasn't I asking myself? I painted my front door while listening to Krista Tippett (On Being podcast) interview the poet Jericho Brown. They reminded me of the importance of giving one's entire being to one's work. I listened twice.

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When Other Means Fail...

I know many of you, like me, have been following the unfolding of the Flint, Michigan water debacle with a growing sense of horror. How could the public trust be so flagrantly and continuously betrayed? And the news keeps coming.

It's hard to feel that we citizens have any power at all. But we have our voices. And at times like this, poetry helps me to distill my thoughts.

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Wonder and Association

In May, I went to visit my mother for Mothers’ Day. My mom is a pistol. Thank God. When I stumble downstairs in the morning, she’s sitting at the kitchen table, all coffee-ed up, hard at work on the crossword puzzle.

“She’s out in the garage,” she says.
“The cat. Sleep OK?” she asks.  Read More 
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Tension, Release. Ahhh. Good Poem

Tension has a bad rap. We have multiple strategies for dissipating tension in our lives. But in art—and maybe in everything else—tension makes things interesting. Who wants to watch a movie with a predictable ending? Tension keeps us awake, involved.  Read More 
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Let a Line Love You

I say if a line in a poem wants to love you, let it. Let it reach out and grab ya’, as Steve Miller might say. Let it soak in and let tears from nowhere seep out. It doesn’t matter if you don’t “get” the rest of the poem.

Maybe someday you will.  Read More 
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Introduction: Finding and Reading Contemporary Poetry

We need a blog, says my dear friend Martha, about how to find good contemporary poetry. If you like poetry, as she does, how do you find out about new poets? How do you find poetry you will enjoy? Read More 
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