What is this? A picture of a dog? But hey, it’s Blanco’s birthday, as well as mine – we share so many things; underwear, shirts, an inability to remember names – and you can do what you want on your birthday.
I never really intended getting a dog. Indeed have always felt quite hostile to the urban dog, and its owners. And as for those groups of dog owners who congregate eagerly in the park discussing the various merits of their canine companions, I give them a wide berth. But like other humans, I have a deep, cave-dwelling canine affinity and in my drinking days was known to befriend and hug many a stray and confide inebriated nothings into their doggy ears, when everyone else had long since stopped listening to me. The dog doesn’t mind, he thinks you’re just being friendly, even if you smell of mustard gas he doesn’t mind, because he probably does as well.
A German Shepherd once saved my life, when I slipped in the snow and started rolling down an Alp. Honestly. It was in Haute Savoie. He bounded down the hill through the snow and lay cross-ways in my path to stop me from rolling over a precipice. He had followed me from my friends’ remote home on a winter’s evening when, already well-oiled, I just had to walk five kilometres to the nearest bar. So on arriving in the village I took him to the Bistro instead and ordered him a raw steak. A group of local firemen eating their dinner were well impressed. That dog was called Flambard.
So, when I was ill, five years ago, and vegetating at home, unable to concentrate for long periods of time, and therefore read or write, because of a nasty condition called encephalopathy, I decided that a dog would be a good thing, and would force me to get more exercise. So I found a puppy, long since grown into a 25 kilo mad rollicking slavering beast, quite incapable of rational thought for even a moment, desperately affectionate, extremely fond of rolling in horse shit and insanely OCD where balls and sticks are concerned. Bruno Blanco, now approaching fifth birthday, pictured above in characteristic pose, quite mental, full-on, full-speed, even features in a literary work, albeit briefly. Still has a set of bollocks, even though Mrs Blanco has more than once suggested he might be better off bereft of them. I am fond of long walks in the hills, and for that reason alone a dog is a good thing. I wonder if I might cite a poem by Jane Kenyon? Let’s see. Thanks to John Freeman for passing it on.
After an Illness, Walking the Dog
Wet things smell stronger,
and I suppose his main regret is that
he can sniff just one at a time.
In a frenzy of delight
he runs way up the sandy road-
scored by freshets after five days
of rain. Every pebble gleams, every leaf.
When I whistle he halts abruptly
and steps in a circle,
swings his extravagant tail.
Then he rolls and rubs his muzzle
in a particular place, while the drizzle
falls without cease, and Queen Anne’s Lace
and goldenrod bend low.
The top of the logging road stands open
and bright. Another day, before
hunting starts, we’ll see how far it goes,
leaving word first at home.
The footing is ambiguous.
Soaked and muddy, the dog drops,
panting, and looks up with what amounts
to a grin. It’s so good to be uphill with him,
nicely winded, and looking down on the pond.
A sound commences in my left ear
like the sound of the sea in a shell;
a downward vertiginous drag comes with it.
Time to head home. I wait
until we’re nearly out to the main road
to put him back on the leash, and he
– the designated optimist –
imagines to the end that he is free.
Otherwise: new and selected poems (Graywolf, 1996)