“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?” ~ Mary Oliver
Today, in honor of Mary Oliver’s 86th birthday, I’m sharing several tender and affecting tail waggers from Dog Songs (Penguin Press, 2013) and Red Bird (Beacon Press, 2009).
Even now, it’s easy to imagine Mary roaming the woods, fields, and shore with her faithful canine companions Luke, Benjamin, Bear, Sammy, Ricky, and especially Percy, for whom she seemed to have held special affection.
Simple, unadorned words, maximum emotional resonance. She wrote about dogs and humans, but it was always about so much more.
PERCY Our new dog, named for the beloved poet, ate a book which unfortunately we had left unguarded. Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita, of which many copies are available. Every day now, as Percy grows into the beauty of his life, we touch his wild, curly head and say, “Oh, wisest of little dogs.”
PERCY, WAITING FOR RICKY Your friend is coming, I say to Percy and name a name and he runs to the door, his wide mouth in its laugh-shape, and waves, since he has one, his tail. Emerson, I am trying to live, as you said we must, the examined life. But there are days I wish there was less in my head to examine, not to speak of the busy heart. How would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.
THE WICKED SMILE “Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten for days.” What? Ricky, you had a huge supper. “I did? My stomach doesn’t remember. Oh, I think I’m fading away. Please make me breakfast and I’ll tell you something you don’t know.” He ate rapidly. Okay, I said. What were you going to tell me? He smiled the wicked smile. “Before we came over, Anne already gave me my breakfast,” he said. Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble. A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog is also a hedonist.
"FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY DOG PERCY" For I will consider my dog Percy. For he was made small but brave of heart. For if he met another dog he would kiss her in kindness. For when he slept he snored only a little. For he could be silly and noble in the same moment. For when he spoke he remembered the trumpet and when he scratched he struck the floor like a drum. For he ate only the finest food and drank only the purest of water, yet would nibble of the dead fish also. For he came to me impaired and therefore certain of short life, yet thoroughly rejoiced in each day. For he took his medicines without argument. For he played easily with the neighborhood’s bull mastiff. For when he came upon mud he splashed through it. For he was an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon. For he listened to poems as well as love-talk. For when he sniffed it was as if he were being pleased by every part of the world. For when he sickened he rallied as many times as he could. For he was a mixture of gravity and waggery. For we humans can seek self-destruction in ways he never dreamed of. For he took actions both cunning and reckless, yet refused always to offer himself to be admonished. For his sadness though without words was understandable. For there was nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. For there was nothing brisker than his life when in motion. For he was of the tribe of Wolf. For when I went away he would watch for me at the window. For he loved me. For he suffered before I found him, and never forgot it. For he loved Anne. For when he lay down to enter sleep he did not argue about whether or not God made him. For he could fling himself upside down and laugh a true laugh. For he loved his friend Ricky. For he would dig holes in the sand and then let Ricky lie in them. For I often see his shape in the clouds and this is a continual blessing.
I ASK PERCY HOW I SHOULD LIVE MY LIFE Love, love, love, says Percy. And hurry as fast as you can along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust. Then, go to sleep. Give up your body heat, your beating heart. Then, trust. ~ from Redbird: Poems (Beacon Press, 2009)
- Ricky, a Havanese rescue, was Mary’s last dog.
- Percy (2002 – 2009) was a Bichon Frise rescue.
- “For I Will Consider My Dog Percy” was inspired by Christopher Smart’s poem, “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry.” ‘The lines in italics, except for the exchange of names and altering of verb tense from present to past, are Christopher Smart’s own, and in that way are acknowledged to be so.’
Here’s Mary reading another poem from Dog Songs:
♥️ Please share a favorite dog memory, or a little tidbit about the dog who lives with you now.
The lovely and talented Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting the Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Pad on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Sit, stay, roll over, and have a good weekend.
*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.