Reprinted below is a post I wrote about our dog, Shadow, in December 2010.
We said goodbye to her today.
A Few Borrowed Lines About Our Old Dog Shadow
[Originally posted December 2010. Updated June 2011 - See below]
There's this great poem, by a writer named Paul Mariani, which I memorized long, long ago, back in college, when I was competing on the Arizona State Forensics Squad. At the time I used the poem, entitled Lines I Told Myself I Wouldn't Write, as a dramatic-interp piece, and I did pretty well with it.
It's about a guy who loves and then loses a good old dog.
"I promised myself I wouldn't go soft over one fleabag arthritic half gone in the head..."
But lately, when I watch as my own old dog "limps down to the Sawmill" I think of that poem; it returns to me like scent memory, unexpectedly. And it returns with increasing regularity. Even though Mariani's poem isn't about watching an old dog age a little more everyday, I nevertheless find myself grateful for his words, which so well-express what it means to love a dog you never really expected to love.
She came to us already named
like a Barbie
as a Shadow. An obvious, but fitting brand
for a blue-black dog with a cautious, shrinking demeanor
afraid of the wind
and unseen food-thieving curs
she was supposed to be with us.
Just while we're gone,
they said. Dogsit for us.
So we did. While they jetted off to London
In that time, like all good fortune
she found us
while we were not seeking her
by gently imploring us for wooden walks
paws crossed in front of her looking into us
for that spark
which she seemed to know she could kindle
curled on the foot of our bed without invitation
and to our surprise
knowing she was welcome there.
They returned but she stayed.
And years later we understood better
that to love a dog (despite the way she can stink-up a room)
or perhaps just this dog, was a harbinger,
a bell-weathered insight
of what we might likewise hold for a kid
and so we had one
taught well as we had been
by this Shadow
about how to cherish and find joy and to care
for something other
than me and or us
I know I said
I wouldn't go weepy when it came, and I haven't.
At least not that much
Not yet. But it's hard to watch her get old
and be troubled by the jump
into and out of the back of the car
To be growing bony and lumpy
grey around the muzzle
as she slowly rises to her fourteenth year
Her restless creaking snore awakens us both now
and at times we wonder aloud in the night What if...
But her breathing always resumes
steady before she bestirs herself to pace the floor
dig a new nest
and slip off into her dogish dreams again.
Her paws twitch
her lips curl
she is chasing squirrels
UPDATE - June 2011
I shared this blog entry with the guy who wrote the poem that inspired it, Paul Mariani. In an email to him at Boston College I wrote:
Hello Dr. Mariani,He was kind enough to respond the same day with the following:
We've never met. But long ago I read and loved a poem you wrote, Lines I Told Myself I Wouldn't Write. Some time ago I was compelled to use it as inspiration for a blog entry and, likewise, to write a kind of homage to it. I am not a poet. Nor much of a writer, in fact. I am an elementary school teacher, truth be told. But the poem has long been special to me. I have shared it, or parts of it, with many people over many years. And I am reminded of it regularly of late. My dog is not lost, but she is getting old. For all of those reasons, I wanted to share what I've written with you. I know that's probably a silly thing. But I wanted to say, "Thanks for your words. You are an excellent writer."
Here is the link to my blog: http://rockychrysler.blogspot.com/2010/12/few-borrowed-lines-about-our-old-dog.html
Thanks, John, for forwarding your lovely poem about Shadow. I don't think one ever forgets a dog you've had this long. And though my son Mark has lost yet another dog, Bergen, a golden retriever--we still remember Sparky. In fact, about 15 years after I wrote Lines I wrote another poem for him, which I enclose here. The English in particular seem to love this one, for BBC has aired it several times, though I've never heard it. Take care, and may those Arizona fires finally quiet down. Best, Paul MarianiHere's a link to the poem he forwarded to me. It's very good. Made my wife cry.