How old were you
when you stopped
believing the sun and clouds
hear and are grateful
for every expression of awe
we direct heavenward?
I write at night. Late, and sometimes until past midnight. To my little dog Bobby, it must appear a perfectly silly thing that I do when I take a seat and face a glowing screen. Turned toward the window, sitting still as the night outside, nothing moving but my fingers, quiet as a pair of shoes. My eyes fixed directly ahead. If Bobby knew the definition of catatonic stupor, maybe he’d think I’ve become stuck in one.
He began complaining a few weeks ago. Right at his bedtime. Say 10:30-ish.
He comes up beside my chair at the desk, and sits and looks at me. I cut my eyes away from the screen in front of me to glance at him. He stares at me. There’s this piercing amber light in his eyes, as though if I’d only look back at him deeply enough, with concentration and singular intention, then he would be able to cock his head and telepathically pose his question to me in English: “What the hell are you doing?”
He figures he’s got me where he wants me, so he goes on: “You take a seat in a chair facing away from me. To look at what, exactly? Nothing that I can smell.” But I don’t get it.
Enough with the Vulcan-mind-meld routine, he tries a little growl, some vocalizing. “Don’t be so selfish. You know it’s my bedtime. I need my snuggle. And you are doing nothing that counts for very much.” But I’m not translating well, and miss the message.
I think he’s asking for a pee break. I stop in the middle of a sentence, and we go outside into the dark where the snakes and wild things prowl. A possum or armadillo within a hundred yards has a chase to reckon with. Bobby does his business, and we come back inside.
But he’s soon at my side again, fussing at me. I fuss back. “What do you want?” We talk back and forth until he gets exasperated and stops whining. After some few nights, I finally catch on. But only after he gives up and jumps on the bed and looks at me with such sad eyes that something clicks and I understand in a flash that he wants me to stop working and come to bed. And I flat-out tell Bobby this will not work. “I write. I write at night. And it’s been this way since you came to live with me. So what’s changed, little pup? We need to switch things back.”
And Bobby gathers all his cuteness into one longing gaze, twists his head a little to the side, and wonders, “Can we compromise?” I get it loud and clear.
“What? How so?”
“Tuck me in, curl up beside me, get me to sleep. Then, get back up and write ‘til daybreak, for all I care.”
And when he adds, blinking twice, “Please?” Well, let’s just say I’m a sucker for polite and well-mannered, albeit pleading, puppy proposals. Even if Bobby does get a little smug when I also fall asleep myself.
(Click on the link below for a video sample of Bobby persuading me to come to bed with him.)
About twenty-five years ago, I attended the Oxford Conference for the Book, and sat in an auditorium for a reading by Richard Flanagan, a Tasmanian writer whose debut novel Death of a River Guide had the literary world by the throat. He was joined on stage by two other authors.
The host announced that each writer had 15 minutes. The first author took 15 minutes to set up his reading, then read for almost 20 minutes. When Flanagan stood up to the mic, he looked to his left at the previous reader, and said, “I’m not going to set this up.” Then he looked out at the audience and added, “If I have to do that, then I’ve chosen the wrong thing to read.”
Richard Flanagan read for three minutes and when he finished, I found myself right there in the second row, sitting between William Gay and Suzanne Kingsbury, stunned and emotional. I held my eyes wide open, unblinking, and my lips pulled tight, trying to maintain my composure. Flanagan’s brief reading had crushed me, his words tearing at my heart. William and Suzanne were friends of mine, and they both looked at me, though neither said a thing.
And now I’m finishing up Syllables Go By, a collection of 99 haiku I’ve been writing and posting to this page, and I’m replacing my previous number 99 with this one that I wrote today. With each of the other haiku, I included a narrative lead-in that sort of set up the poem. I’m going to go back and edit out all the set-ups. Just let the three lines and the seventeen syllables stand on their own.
I mean, a genuine haiku doesn’t even carry a title, unlike other poems, and stories and novels. That’s because this form is intended to be slippery, like gold fish in a garden pond, and the reader is supposed to catch its meaning without help, even from a title. No such net allowed. So, if I have to set up a poem hoping the reader will more likely “get it” then I haven’t written it with the right words.
He’s from Nazareth.
Can any good come from there?
Let’s just send him back.