Poetry Monday- Dog Days of Summer

I spent the morning picking blueberries at an organic, u-pick blueberry farm near by. I’m thrilled to make those tasty berries into sweet blueberry jam, but more about that later in the week. By noon, me, my best friend from elementary school, and her two children, had already picked a whopping ten pounds. That’s pretty good for two little ones less than three feet tall!! I apologize if this seems like a side note, I promise I’m getting to the poetry folks, long story short, we only picked until noon because by then it was already triple digits. And now, at 5:30 in the evening it’s still 106 degrees outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat, but today got me thinking about the phrase “dog days of summer.”

Because it is sweltering outside (at least where I live) I’ve decided to dedicate this Poetry Monday to the dogs. Today, all of our poems will be coming from Bruce Guernsey’s collection titled From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010.

I purchased this collection while under the impression that I would need it for a poetry course, however, the collection was not on the syllabi. When I asked our professor if I should send it back in the mail, she firmly said no. She told me to read it front to back, treasure it, and learn from Guernsey’s use of every-day objects in his poetry. The back of the collection’s cover says the following, and I know that’s just why Laurie Lamon told me to hold on to it:

In simple, spare language the poetry in FROM RAIN: Poems 1970-2010 examines the common objects around us as if they were clues to solving some kind of mystery. Ice, glass, stones, moss, and similar inanimate things take on meaning as the poet seeks to answer who and why we are.

Although I haven’t had time to read the collection through, I can contest Guernsey is using objects in this way with his poetry. Below I will include three poems included in this collection, all having something to do with the subject of dogs. I assure you this won’t be the last you hear about him on this blog, as I have found many other favorites of mine.

THE LADY AND THE TRAMP

As my mother’s memory dims
she’s losing her sense of smell
and can’t remember the toast
blackening the kitchen with smoke
or sniff how nasty the breath of the dog
that follows her yet from room to room,
unable, himself, to hear his own bark.

It’s thus they get around,
the wheezing old hound stone deaf
baying like a smoke alarm
for his amnesiac mistress whose back
from petting him is bent forever
as they shuffle toward the flaming toaster
and split the cindered crisp that’s left.

I think this is beautiful. My favorite image is of the woman’s bent back, and how the speaker contributes it to petting her animal and friend. I also love how Guernsey gets away with using the word “nasty” in a poem. This next one points out a truth that is so commonplace, we often overlook it; Guernsey makes it new.

SOMETIMES FOR HOURS

At my feet my dog,
a pastoral scene,

master and beast,
except in his dream

he’s chasing a car,
flinching awake

as the wheels hit–
the way we do

falling through sleep
suddenly saved.

What the mind questions,
the heart believes

and we lie there reasoning,
afraid.

The dog instead
scratches his ear,

nips at a flea
and is soon back twitching.

And the last one is just for fun.

THE SEEING-EYE DOG

sneaks out nights,
cool in beret,

his master’s dark glasses,
sips cointreau

at the dog cafe
and watches;

is the poet of dogs
with a voice that sees

for the man who can’t,
that speaks the meaning

of read, of green;
is the loneliest dog

at the dog cafe
where hounds down suds

and the barking
is loud.

Poetry Monday–Finding Beauty in Aging and Alzheimer’s

 

For our first poetry Monday I’d like to highlight Jane Kenyon who I was introduced to by Laurie Lamon. The three poems I will post are out of her collection titled Otherwise. One of the many reasons why I enjoy Kenyon’s writing as much as a I do is because of her poetry’s accessibility. While she is by no means a simplistic poet, she takes simple topics and expands them beyond anything I could imagine.

Much of the poetry in this collection touches on the topic of aging and death. I chose these three poems for today because in my initial reading of them all, they instantly reminded me of my great grandmother who died at age 96 from Alzheimer’s disease. I would love to hear what you think about them; hopefully you find them as beautifully heartbreaking as I do.

In The Nursing Home

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

 

The Needle

Grandmother, you are as pale
as Christ’s hands on the wall above you.
When you close your eyes you are all 
white–hair, skin, gown. I blink
to find you again in the bed.

I remember once you told me
you weighed a hundred and twenty-three,
the day you married Grandfather.
You had handsome legs. He watched you 
working at the sink.

The soft ring is loose on your hand.
I hated coming here.
I know you can’t understand me.
I’ll try again,
like the young nurse with the needle.

 

Ironing Grandmother’s Tablecloth

As a bride, you made it smooth,
pulling the edges straight, the corners square.
For years you went over the same piece
of cloth, the way Grandfather walked to work.

This morning I move the iron across the damask,
back and forth, up and down. You are ninety-four.
Each day you dress yourself, then go back to bed
and listen to radio sermons, staring at the ceiling.

When I visit, you tell me your troubles: 
how my father left poisoned grapefruit on the back 
porch at Christmas, how somebody comes at night
to throw stones at the house.

The streets of your brain become smaller,
old houses torn down. Talking to me
is hard work, keeping things straight,
whose child I am, whether I have children. 

 

To me, Kenyon is summing up the heartbreaking, yet beautiful aspects of growing old through these poems; how she does both simultaneously is inspiring to me.

What do you think?