Too close for comfort

There is no right time.
Definitely no good time.

Whenever it comes
We will look back with regret

Wish we had done things differently
And moreover, never had to.

But the moment has always been there –
Buried in the small print

Of the pact we entered into
All those years ago

Never once imagining
We’d ever have to live it.

Having had a heart murmur for a number of years, our beloved whippet is now in congestive heart failure. No longer a case of if but when we will need to make A Decision, and probably sooner rather than later. I know there are many bigger, and far worse things happening in the world now: it’s still hard. Dogs are wonderful, but they do put you through it sometimes.

Misdirection

We do not write poems about dogs –
Not, at least, if we want to be taken
In any way seriously.

Dogs are not sensible, grown-up subjects
For sensible, grown-up writers.
They are not issues or arguments

But the stuff of rhymes we write at school
Like sunsets, springtime and the sea
The root of all doggerel.

No. Instead, we stick to abstractions
Write loftily of love, fidelity, domestic intimacy,
Age, infirmity, and the bitter, plunging agony of leaving

While carefully kidding ourselves
That we’re not really writing
About dogs at all.

Dog’s life

Me: So. What makes a good and worthy life?
My best friend just looks at me
With fond, pitying eyes that plainly say
What kind of question is that?
Please. I need to know.
OK. First, eat. Anything and everything put before you.
Plus whatever you can find. You may surprise yourself.
Then sleep. Dream. Find the warm spots.
Let others envy your repose, so instant and complete.
Yet always be ready to respond.
There is promise in every sound and movement. You just never know.
Ignore the stick, the ball, the bird:
Mere distractions, unworthy of your speed and skill.
Not so the cat, the rabbit:
Always engage with your true work. For you will have your day.

And those I meet?
Some will reach out, some recoil.
Learn when to press for friendship, and when to walk away.

What are my watchwords?
Loyalty without subservience.
Courage without recklessness.
Fierceness without savagery.

To sum up, then…
Live enormously.
Love immoderately.
Serve unfailingly.
Be adored, remarkable, irreplaceable.

And is that enough? I ask.
My best friend’s eyes are laughing now.
You tell me.

Their greatest fans, of which I’m one, would readily concede that whippets aren’t the brightest dogs in the world – they’re born to run, not to think – but like all canines, they know a thing or two about living. Even an example as irredeemably obtuse as our beloved Viggo is consistently in tune with what’s truly important in a way I never seem able to maintain. How I envy his simple outlook, uncomplicated moral code and serene, untroubled mind, especially in times like these. N.

Dog dreams

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He sprawls
On a deep white sheepskin.
The black stove’s heat
Draws him back
To summer days, spread like a blanket
On the sun-warmed sand.

Feet flick in sudden spasm,
Galvanised by phantom rabbits:
In this new universe
He wears cat’s claws
And in the treetops
The squirrels have stopped laughing.

One eye upturned
Haw-hooded, a frozen pool.
Deep in his wordless mysteries
He runs alone, unowned, unmastered
On private paths and secret ways
I cannot know or follow.

Rictameters

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Dusk

The day
Grows weary now,
Decides to call it quits
So draws the clouds across the sun
And shuffles into twilight. Blackbirds call
From treetops but it does not turn;
Just fades away and leaves
A lonely world
To night.

 

Hounded

Your race
Is not against
The clock; no pack or prize
Impels you. All you have to beat
Is deep pain, your own doubt, the wasted days.
Recharge the lightning in your limbs,
Relight your inner fire:
I long to see
You win.

 

Revisiting rictameter. The second poem is for my beloved but somewhat banged-up whippet, who’s three weeks into a month-long convalescence from surgery to secure his left shoulder, which he dislocated in a fall at the beginning of April. He should make a full recovery given rest and time, but it’s going to be a long, slow job. Thank goodness for pet insurance…N.

A trio of triolets

1.

To ride a bike today, a man must be
A hero or a fool. So which am I?
One thing that I can say with certainty:
To ride a bike today, a man must be
Gripped by great need – or why else willingly
Leave warmth behind for hard roads, hostile sky?
To ride a bike today, a man must be
A hero or a fool. So which am I?

2.

The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall
And somebody is knocking at the door.
A year’s passed since you promised me you’d call.
The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall:
To let my hopes rise is to risk a fall;
And yet, what else have I been wishing for?
The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall
And somebody is knocking at the door.

3.

He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
No intention of heading home hungry tonight.
With his eyes on the field and a kill on his mind,
He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
Wary, quick as the rabbits he’s hoping to find,
Checks the lamp, whets his knife in the fast-failing light.
He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
No intention of heading home hungry tonight.

 

For my final post before Christmas, I thought I’d experiment with a form I’ve never tried before. The triolet is rather haughtily dismissed in one of my books as ‘slight’, which I think is a little unfair. Originally, it was used for quite weighty subjects, but for reasons unclear it came to be a ‘light verse’ form, reserved for the frothy and the fanciful. I thought I’d try to redeem it, at least a little, and quickly discovered that it’s both more complex and more versatile than it first appears. The rhyme scheme is an interesting one – ABaAabAB – with the first two lines (AB) repeated at the end, the first line (A) popping up again as line 4, and only two rhymes for the whole thing. Having written one it seemed inevitable that I should write a trio of triolets, just to explore the possibilities. Since there’s no set metre for the triolet, the first two are in iambic pentameter, because I can’t help myself these days, while the third uses stressed syllables by way of a change. I shall definitely be writing in this form again.
I shall be off the grid for the next few days, so let me take this opportunity to wish every one of you a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful and joyous New Year. My heartfelt thanks, as always, for your encouragement and fellowship – God bless us, WordPress poets, every one. N.

Big game

For two long years he hunted them
All through the watching wood;
Two years of coming oh-so-close
But not quite coming good.
His searing speed and sighthound’s gaze
Frustrated at the last
By the quarry taking to the trees
Like topmen up the mast.
A hunting-dog deprived, denied
His dream; the primal thrill
Of satisfying ancient lusts:
The chase. The catch. The kill.
Until, one dull grey afternoon
He passed us, in full cry,
A dozen feet to every stride –
We saw the dead leaves fly
As, suddenly, he jinked and swerved
And darted to the right,
And by a stand of silver birch
He made the lethal bite.
Oh, that he’d slain the noble hart,
Run Reynard to defeat!
A rabbit, even – that at least
We could have cooked to eat.
But no. He turned and, head held high
Accepted our applause,
With triumph blazing in his eyes –

And a squirrel in his jaws.

 

A silly ballad about our stupid dog – a little metrical therapy to end a weary day. N.

Sonnet: Us and them

They’ve given all our money to the banks
Who take the bonuses but not the blame;
They’ve added tens of thousands to the ranks
Of unemployed without a hint of shame.
They’ve dragged us into one unwanted war
After another, claiming every time
To be the bringers of the rule of law,
As if expenses fraud is not a crime.
And now they want to slap me with a fine
If I am caught with my dog off his lead.
There’s precious little left I can call mine;
My wants are few; this much alone I need.
We’re all in this together, so they say;
From where I stand, it doesn’t look that way.

 

Our town council is proposing new bye-laws that would force dogs to be on leads at ALL times on ALL council-owned land, including the woods I’ve frequently written about here. As a responsible owner, I absolutely agree that fouling is a public nuisance and utterly unacceptable: that’s why we ALWAYS pick up after The Hunting Dog. I also believe it’s a problem caused (as is so often the case) by a small, thoughtless minority, and that these rules won’t change their behaviour. The council clearly isn’t enforcing its existing anti-fouling laws, so quite how it’ll enforce these new ones – and at what cost – is anyone’s guess. I know this is an unusual choice of form for a protest, but what’s a sonnet if not the expresion of life’s great emotions and passions? Rant over. N.

Pantoum: Sighthound

Sighthound

No time to hide. Don’t try to run;
I’ve seen you, and my eye is death.
Say goodbye to earth and sun.
Draw your final, futile breath.

I’ve seen you, and my eye is death,
Seconds now remain to you.
Draw your final, futile breath
I’ll take you as I’m bred to do.

Seconds now remain to you;
I have all the time I need.
I’ll take you as I’m bred to do,
I hunt by sight, kill by speed.

I have all the time I need;
Say goodbye to earth and sun.
I hunt by sight, kill by speed.
No time to hide. Don’t try to run.