Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Did God (and Billy Collins) Just Tell Us to Get a Dog?

The passing of my most valuable writing tool, aka Stella the Arm Rest, aka Stella the Needed Distraction, aka Stella Who Once Slapped the iPad In a Fit of Jealously, has taken words out of me and left empty spaces. You can hear the wind whistling through them. So we've tentatively started talking about adopting again.

This weekend we met a little boy with pointy ears and a tongue longer and thicker than my wrist. Deaf, like our previous girl. We were weighing pros and cons in the car, gliding up the Garden State Parkway back to New York City. As we were discussing, Garrison Keillor announced poet Billy Collins on Prairie Home Companion, about to read his work on the radio. I hushed everyone, because when Billy Collins reads you don't matter to me. Unless you're on fire. Then you matter, at least until we put you out.

Important fact: Billy Collins is one of the wisest and wryest writers I've ever read. He makes me want to set myself on fire, as a mercy killing to prevent my family and friends from ever reading another swiss cheese draft of something I wrote. THE TROUBLE WITH POET blog is named for a line in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD, and Collins' poem "The Trouble With Poetry."

Collins stepped to the microphone, hundreds of poems in his portfolio available to read from. He chose this:


I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you--not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and--greatest of insults--shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner--
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

Some might call that a blatant sign NOT to get a dog.

In our macabre little snow globe, however, it sounds like Billy Collins' just voted in favor of adopting the little beast with the giant tongue, so long as we have an action plan in place to be certain the right places get scratched.