Thankful Countdown #10: Modern Wonders
Christmas Countdown: Daily Holiday Journaling Prompts

The Marble Moon Glides By

I love going to poetry readings. It was one of my favorite things about being an English major, and the thing is, there were always poetry readings to be found. I don't go to them as often now, but I don't think there are any fewer. I just don't know about as many.

One of my favorite readings was the one Mark Strand did at the University of Utah. I think this was in 1996, or maybe in early 1997—when I was a student at UVU. I went with one of my university friends, Dawn.

I was a big reader of The New Yorker in the 90s, mostly for the poems, and I had been struck by a poem about dogs. I read it so often I had it memorized, but I had forgotten who wrote it. So when I was sitting in that auditorium, waiting for Mark Strand to read "Eating Poetry," I was startled to hear the first lines of the dog poem. "Now that the great dog I worshipped for years/Has become none other than myself, I can look within//And bark."

I started reciting it quietly to myself, a sort of voicy whisper that blended right with Strand's voice in the little quiet pocket between me and Dawn. She was a little astounded, I think, that I knew it. I didn't just know it, though. I loved it, even though I couldn't really say I understood it very well. It was just so...sad but beautiful, all at once.

Even though I don't really like dogs very much.

And it isn't even really about dogs. It's about growing old, and finding oneself less than expected, but still acceptable.

The poet Mark Strand passed away last week. I hadn't heard until my friend Wendy text to ask me if I knew him. "Not in a biblical sense," I couldn't resist responding, because he was sort of known as (in addition to being, you know, a really good poet) fairly sexy. I didn't really know him, even though I shook his hand once and told him how glad I was he'd read the dog poems. (And, yes. "Eating Poetry.")

But I did know him, at least in the way any admirer of someone's writing "knows" someone. I taught "Eating Poetry" to my poetry classes. I wrote an essay about his work. I carried "Great Dog Poem no2" with me for all of these years, and as I have grown older, too, I understand it better. I haven't yet become the great dog I worship. I'm fairly far from it, in fact. (And it's not even a dog.) But I understand. I understand barking within myself.

There isn't comfort in being who I am, either.

But there is a solace in knowing someone else said something beautiful about something sad. Something sad that I felt creeping up to me, so long ago when I was in my twenties, that is no longer creeping but crawling pretty quickly toward me now, something I couldn't describe like he did but recognized immediately.

"Great Dog Poem no2" by Mark Strand, from The New Yorker, January 15, 1996

Now that the great dog I worshipped for years
Has become none other than myself, I can look within

And bark, and I can look at the mountains down the street
And bark at them as well. I am an eye that sees itself

Look back, a nose that tracks the scent of shadows
As they fall, an ear that picks up sounds

Before they are born. I am the last of the platinum
Retrievers, the end of a gorgeous line.

But there's no comfort being who I am. I roam around
And ponder fate's abolishments until my eyes

Are filled with tears and I say to myself, "Oh, Rex,
Forget. Forget. The stars are out. The marble moon slides by."


Beth S

This is only kind of related to this post - I made a note of your October post and just had to tell you that I just ordered the 2 Pinsky books for my daughter (singing season and best poems). She is a huge writer (and a grammar police officer) but has come to love poetry. She is submitting a number of her poems to a contest through her school. She's a Jr. in HS. Anyway, I'm so excited to give her these and can't thank you enough. I am not a poetry person and would not have made it past Robert Frost. So thank you, thank you. You inspire me always but perhaps now, also a budding writer and poet.

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