Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ted Kooser and A Very Bad Dog

My big floppy dog, my big stupid smelly dirty obstinate dog, seems to have developed an aversion to the screen door, the one that is his gateway to his potty area and the fenced in patio. I don’t know why and when that happened, but last night at midnight, he was adamant. I will not come inside through that door, and there is nothing you can do about it, woman. This is what he said to me as I was whispering “Puppy, come!!”

I couldn’t actually shout at him because of the late hour, and the neighbor’s bedroom window is very close to my back door. I also couldn’t stomp outside and force him in because he reacts to aggression with aggression—barking and bucking and running crazy laps around the pool and on top of the pool cover, splashing as he goes. So I was left to beg powerlessly, at the mercy of the dog.

Let me backtrack a little bit and say that we were outside at midnight because Big Puppy has diarrhea and needed to make an emergency run. Once he did his business, he was in exploration mode and was not interested in coming back in, certainly not through the screen door. I tried offering treats, I tried going outside in the cold in my jammies and no shoes to round him up by the scruff of the neck. I finally cornered him by the gate, slipped on a leash and dragged him back in, still whispering but clearly yelling in my heart, and he understood.

This episode didn’t go on for a few minutes. It went on for 40. At one point, I decided to let the dog roam quietly, and I turned on the sleepy Mactop and went to one of my favorite sites, one I have neglected for far too long—Writer’s Almanac (see the sidebar link)—and I learned something really good. Between 2004  and 2006, a poet named Ted Kooser was our Poet Laureate, and today is his birthday. Did I not know that he was our Poet Laureate, or was I not paying attention, or did I forget?

This man wanted to be a writer but flunked out of grad school and took the first job he was offered, working for a life insurance company, and he wrote poetry on his own time. I worked as an insurance agent for two years, and let me tell you, there is nothing poetic about it. If anything, the business can suck out and destroy any poetic aspiration you might hold dear. Or so I thought.

Kooser decided he wanted to write poetry for his colleagues, whom he was sure didn’t typically read poetry, and he wrote in a disciplined manner for years and years, accepting a certain level of obscurity. But then he got the called to be our Poet Laureate. “I was so staggered I could barely respond. The next day, I backed the car out of the garage and tore the rearview mirror off the driver's side,” he said.

Kooser’s website is full of great stuff—video readings, a collection of poems, a weekly column. I’ll be spending time here, I think. So far, here is my favorite Kooser poem—it conjures up images of old men I see around Small Town almost every day:

Tattoo

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

I love where he chooses to break the lines, leaving you hanging on an open-end for a second and then beginning the next line with the answer—where is the fist and the bruise and the spot, what does he look like, where does he walk and what does he pick up? And this—"with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt rolled up to show us who he was." Is that not brilliant insight into how an old man might want to be perceived? Not as what he is today in his depleted state but as what he used to be when he was vigorous and maybe a little threatening, before his heart had gone "soft and blue with stories."

Now, I could continue to be furious with the big stinky dog for refusing to obey his pack leader and causing me to be up and angry when I should have been asleep and at peace, but look what I probably wouldn’t have discovered had he been a good puppy and had come when he was called?

1 comment:

dive said...

He's good; he writes like you.
Perhaps you should sit down and write while Baxter spends time refusing to come in. He'll get bored and curious eventually and come in to see what you're doing, and the rest of us will have something good to read.