Beloved Alex – David, Howard & Greg’s sweet chocolate lab – died overnight. He had been getting weak over the past weeks and it was clear that his time was getting close. I post these poems in honor of him and in tribute to the three men with whom he shared so much love and devotion.
Mary Oliver has written scores of poems about her own beloved dog, Percy. I include the following ones to share the beauty of her words and to remind us all of the incredible ways that our dear animal friends touch our hearts and give us both the profound joy of their lives and the sorrowful heartbreak in their passing.
I’ve included photos of unknown dogs from the internet and some who are family and friends. I don’t have a picture of Alex, but this is all in honor of him!
Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
Fortunately, it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,
“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”
I have a little dog who likes to nap with me.
He climbs on my body and puts his face in my neck.
He is sweeter than soap.
He is more wonderful than a diamond necklace,
which can’t even bark.
I would like to take him to Kashmir and the Ukraine,
and Jerusalem and Palestine and Iraq and Darfur,
that the sorrowing thousands might see his laughing mouth.
I would like to take him to Washington, right into
the oval office
where Donald Rumsfeld would crawl out of the president’s
and kneel down on the carpet, and romp like a boy.
For once, for a moment, a rational man.
First of all, I do not want to be doing this.
Second of all, Percy does not want me to be doing this,
hanging over my desk like a besieged person
with a dull pencil and innumerable lists of numbers.
Outside the water is blue, the sky is clear, the tide rising.
Percy, I say, this has to be done.
This is essential. I’ll be finished eventually.
Keep me in your thoughts, he replies.
Just because I can’t count to ten doesn’t mean
I don’t remember yesterday, or anticipate today.
I give you one more hour, then we step out
into the beautiful, money-deaf gift of the world and run.
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
Tell me you love me, he says.
Tell me again.
Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over
he gets to ask it.
I get to tell.
You’re like a little wild thing
That was never sent to school.
Sit, I say, and you jump up.
Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand
To the nearest dead fish
With which you perfume your sweet neck.
It is summer.
How many summers does a little dog have?
Run, run Percy.
This is our school.
And now Percy is getting brazen.
Let’s down the beach, baby, he says.
Let’s shake it with a little barking.
Let’s find dead things, and explore them,
By mouth, if possible.
Or maybe the leavings of Paul’s horse (after which
Forgive me for mentioning it, he is fond of kissing)
Ah, this is the thing 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 curlyhaired child now, he’s his own man.
Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it and moans,
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out and the neighbor’s dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say.
Ideas! The elegance of language!
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough.
Your friend is coming
I say to Percy,
and name a name
and he turns to the door,
his wide mouth in its laugh-shape,
and waves, since he has one, his tail.
Emerson, I am trying to live,
as you said we must, 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.
I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life
Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.
Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
All poems by Mary Oliver
In Dedication to Sweet Alex