Dog Songs: Poems by Mary Oliver Hardback Book: 127 pages
Bittersweet poems about Mary Oliver’s love for the many dogs she has shared her life with so far. Funny, sweet, but sad at times, too. Her philosophy is that a dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you do not therefore own her/him as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them. She often likens dogs to their ancestors – wolves, but, she compares one of her dogs, Benjamin, who is curious about raccoons. She says no use to tell him that he and the raccoon are brothers since Benjamin has his own soft ideas about nature and the raccon has others. Benjamin wanted to be friends, the raccoon showed him curling lips and white teeth. She loved Benjamin’s innocence but respected the raccoon’s attitude and his right to his privacy. She told Benjamin, “Lord help you in your place of hope and improbables.” She gave a lot of dogs who had a painful past a home and lots of love. Her dog Sammy loved to visit the neighbors, the other dogs in the area and people would call her to come get him before the dog officer saw him. Sammy would always find a way of getting out of the yard. Or off the rope or leash. He was an explorer and a lover of life. Lots of neighbors took him into their houses and some to hide him from the law. One lady called her from the other end of town and when she got there to pick him up, the lady asked, “Can you wait just a few minutes? I’m making him some scrambled eggs.” The dog officer that was always on Sammy’s trail resigned and the one that took his place was a different sort, he remembered the old days and when he saw Sammy out and about, he would call him over into his truck and drive him home. She said in this way Sammy lived a long and happy life with many friends. There are good people in the world, just goes to show even dogcatchers. Ms. Oliver says it just goes to show it’s all about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you. Ms. Oliver’s prose is both poem and story and all will touch your heart. She speaks of her dog Percy, named for the beloved poet who when he was newly in her home ate a copy of the “Bhagavad Gita,” she forgave him because there are many copies available. Since that time watching Percy grow into the beauty of his life she touches his wild curly head and says, “Oh wisest of little dogs.” Her poem about Percy titled, “School,” talks about him being like a little wild thing that was never sent to school. She laughs because when she said sit he jumps up in the air, when she said come he would run down the beach to the nearest dead fish which he would roll on and perfume his sweet neck. You can see the shrug in her words, “It is summer. How many summers does a little dog have? Run, run, Percy. This is our school.” In “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night” she talks about her dog putting his cheek against hers in the night and making those small expressive sounds we animal lovers are so familiar with. She says he turns upside down, his four paws in the air and is saying, “Tell me you love me.” “Tell me again.” She says could there be any sweeter arrangement? Over and over he gets to ask and she gets to tell. In “Time Passes,” she talks about Percy getting brazen wanting her to go with him down the beach to shake it with a little barking and to find dead things and explore them by mouth, if possible. Or maybe the leavings of Paul’s horse which she mentions, Percy is fond of kissing. She says, “ Ah, this is the dog that comes to each of us. The child grows up. And, according to our own ideas, is practically asunder. I understand it. I struggle to celebrate. I say, with a stiff upper lip familiar to many: Just look at that curly-haired child now, he’s his own man.” In, “Untitled,” she talks about Percy’s one long rendezvous with a little dog named Penny before he had his operation. No puppies came of the tryst”But oh how Percy smiled and smiled all the way home.” In “Percy Wakes Me,” she talks about him waking her up before she is ready but he is ready for action, a walk, then breakfast. She gets up and sees him sitting on the kitchen counter where he is not supposed to be. She says, “How wonderful you are. How clever, if you needed me to wake me.” He thought he would hear a lecture. He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments. He has done something that he needed and now he hears that it is okay. He is wild with the okayness of it. In “Percy Waiting for Ricky,” she muses how she is trying to live like Emerson said, 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.” In “The Wicked Smile,” her dog Ricky always acted as though he hadn’t eaten in days. “What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.” “I did?” He asked. “My stomach doesn’t remember. Oh, I think I’m fading away. Please make breakfast and I will 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.” What a lovely book. Just endears those beloved furry family members to me even more. I’m going to hug them when I get home.