Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Bruce Dawe - dog behaviour.

I’m back walking my dog of a night – let her off the lead to run and piss over everything like as if she owns the neighbourhood – she’s only little.  I’ve never gone and got a dog, but I’ve always had a dog.  People leave them with me and then they become mine.  This one belonged to my daughter.  I had a big, black Labrador before that belonged to my friend Kathy.  With the two dogs together it was easy to see the Lab was a ‘big little dog’, while this one acted like it was the ‘little big dog’.  Dogs don’t see things the way we do, but they try to fit in with your mob and do whatever it is they are compelled to do.  Following behind my dog with her legs criss-crossing like Charlie Chaplin walking and a T-bone patch on her arse I’m reminded of a Bruce Dawe poem, dogs in the morning light.  I’ve posted Bruce Dawe before.  He’s one of my favourite Australian poets – there’s a certain touch of quirky, smirking humour in his work that appeals to me.  Or maybe it’s because he writes like a down-to-earth bloke.  Whatever, I reckon Dawe has studied the behaviour of a bunch of dogs just let out, maybe from being locked up all night, running loose, ‘innocence’ because they don’t know the rules or social status, noses to the ground, re-establishing, so bloody excited that their tails have got their bodies wagging.  These dogs aren’t on leads, and that makes sense because this poem would have been written in the 1960’s at a time when it was acceptable for dogs to be running free in the streets – the good old days for ‘doggy derring-do’, and a boy and his dog could strike out from home together for after school adventures.

dogs in the morning light
(Bruce Dawe)
Responsive to the tune of lawns and trees
Dogs sally forth
In whiskery mongrel innocence; all over town
The irresistible rumour of the day
Prickles their hides and sets their bladders singing
Of doggy derring-do beyond their dreams.
No street but has its canine tributary
- Confluent in lanes,
They swirl about in bright-eyed vortices,
Whirl-pools of snap and sniff and pink-tongued grin.
Quizzical howdies done, the world’s a labyrinth
Of tortuous delight through which his nose
Leads on each quivering Theseus.
Dazed, dazed they go
Into the maze of history where the sharpest
Barkers fall silent …
             O humble retrospection, whose sole means
Lies in the bleached unanswerable
Excreta of the past, the spicy airs
Rising from every spot where dogs have paused,
And, pausing, thrown a bridge across Time’s stream!
Let the bells swing low, their clappers muffled be,
All over town, in many a public place,
Dogs are having their first one for the day,
Rapt vacuity on each raffish face.
Then we’ve got the second verse that’s OK (I’m good with ‘howdies done’), but then I keep reading and think there’s some meaning that I’ve got to unravel. I don’t like it when I’m lost for hidden meaning in a poem. I think the key to the second verse is to know something about the Greek mythology story of Theseus (son of Greek king who offers himself as sacrifice to a monster Minotaur on Crete who lives in a labyrinth maze; boy befriends girl, Ariadne; gives him a sword and a ball of string to find his way back through the maze; Theseus finds the Minotaur in the maze, slays him and returns to the entrance; escapes back to Athens taking Ariadne; leaves her sleeping on the island of Naxos). That’s a cut down version (read it for yourself), but honest, I can see parallels between how dogs down through history have followed scent trails and how Theseus must have rolled that ball of string back up to find his way out of the maze. Tell me if I’m wrong!
It’s those last couple of lines that I like in dogs in the morning light – “dogs are having their first one for the day, rapt vacuity on each raffish face.”  Sometimes, when it all gets too much, gets too serious – it’s good to have a dog around.  There are many poets who have written animal poems and poems about dogs.  I take their lead and write about my dog:
2010.  Referred to as ‘my dog’, Heidi is not my dog. She is Nicole’s dog. I just get to feed her and walk her.  Sometimes it’s a chore (never for her), but she displays tons of little dog attitude and that’s OK.  I don’t understand why she does what she does and she doesn’t understand what I’m doing at the computer.
I love to go
By moon quarter glow
When the cricket call is baritone low
Rabbits quiver and hide in the shadow
Among dry grass thrashed on the meadow
Whispering winds through the she-oak blow
Down where the fern and the fickle-back grow
There’s a worn bush track we always follow
Heidi up front, me in tow.

playing at some game,
called ‘clip joint bouncer’,
compelled by silent commands,
                                               ..... to freeze,
face out over the bluff,
or towards tangled bush,
bulldog chest and square jaw it,
up in the face of an imagined adversary,
out looking for trouble,
or ready to nip trouble in the bud,
should trouble,
at any time wish to start,
then, as quickly,
                   ........ drop it,
to become some penal hound of the everglades,
hungrily vacuuming along a sweat trail,
                                                          ...... jerking,
doubling back and tracking,
getting closer to an escaped man, or
maybe reeling in an innocent child
dribbling a summer ice cream,
where at any time
a cover can be blown,
if the quarry turns too quick,
                                           ..... prop,
and let’s pretend
at phantom fleas on our tails,
twisting to find,
like a woman told
she’s just sat in something.
and always on duty
with the local neighbor-hood watch,
                                                      ...... nosy parker,
sniffing out snippets for the next news letter,
checking security,
surveying vestibule entries,
and being satisfied
with Buster at No 23’s reaction time,
                                                   ..... run away,
like a pesky child rung a door bell,
when a murderous charge
slams his head into color-bond fencing,
                                                         ..... skipping,
to pick up the step,
calmly pleased for the full length of attention span,
inwardly snickering like precious,
and sharing a sideways glance.
                                                     J. O. White

No comments:

Post a Comment