Saturday, April 26, 2008

Too Much

The camera has caught his eyes so that he looks out through empty white rounds. It is just a phenomenon, of course, of rods and cones reacting to a flash of light, but it gives his stare an accusing aspect. As well it might: this dog has no home, except a prison of sorts. And it is a place that is slowly driving him mad, the depression of a pack animal left alone, the neurosis of the individual in solitary confinement.
Week after week after week, the picture of "Brody" runs in the paper with all the other Pets for Adoption from the local SPCA. The roster of other animals changes all around him, but Brody is forever, it seems. He is described as "big," and "brave & smart," and that alone could break your heart.

Better he should be dead, I think. I am in a minority on this point, because people who truly care about dogs, who even--I admit it--identify with their silent sufferings as if they were our own, strangely, are supposed to support the idea of no-kill shelters. Life at any cost. Certainly, it has to be better than the gas chamber, every three days loaded up with people's cast-off pets. (You can visit one of these in Vittorio de Sica's Umberto D., where the sight of the crammed cages of beautiful shining individuals going to their executions, pushed on a cart by indifferent city workers, will make the bile rise in your throat and a searing hatred of humans grip your insides. I hope. De Sica was criticized for the mountainous sentiment that rises from scenes like this in his movie: not realistic, too contrived, they said. I wish, I say.)

A woman named Sue Sternberg is an expert on what shelter animals experience during long-term incarceration. Her belief is that dogs with behavioral difficulties that will make them hard to adopt should be euthanized to make room for more adoptable animals, and spare them the cruelty of the madness that ensues from being held in solitary. For this she has been labeled a Nazi, deciding who lives and who dies. But someone must, or the world will, with no concern for its accidents.

Better a quick death than the one that comes only after months of unhappiness. Which would you pick? Death, or four walls that prevent you from living?

The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave currently has more people behind bars than any other nation in the world. This is our response to everything: lock 'em up. Oh, B. F. Skinner, where are you now that we need you most? The United States has less than five percent of the world's population, but a quarter of the world's prisoners. (Where is the country that will invade us to halt this unconscionable act of dictatorship?) More than China! More than Russia! More than Iraq ever did.

The elephant in the room. There is a rhinoceros there, too. (Where? I can't see it . . . )

As Earth Day is celebrated, towns all over the country will hold fairs at which one can learn all about reducing our so-called carbon footprint, and then buy a pack of compact fluorescents and a cutely packaged earthworm composter, and then feel very fine indeed. We put our many children in the car and call it a day.

Why won't anyone say it? Just about every single problem--and they're pretty dire these days, you know--that faces us would practically vanish if we stopped having so many children. Talk about reducing the carbon footprint. If we adopted a one-child-only policy (this is not about eugenics, but about survival) we can take care of oil prices, food shortages, pollution, sprawl, and killing in the Left Bank, to name a few, without doing much else. Why don't we? Life at any cost?

So we talk about everything but the fact that it's simply human population run amok. We talk about trying to do the impossible, rather than talk about the truth. Who in their right mind thinks that nine billion is a supportable number? We read it, then go on. So much life will, of course, be our death.

I am just about ready to go spring Brody. But then I might just have to bring "Simon" home, too. An eight-year-old dog brought to the shelter because he "got too old" for his family.

What is to become of us?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eternal Questions

Imagining a literature composed of nothing but questions, one sees the potential for depth, resonances, that cannot be reached by other means. Questions echo. They ask for the reader to enter their space; they embrace, not distance. Maybe someday I write something using nothing but questions. Maybe it will qualify as literature. But not today. This is just a list of questions.

Why does Nelly insist on kissing me, vigorously and annoyingly, on the face while I'm trying to do a downward dog asana?

What's with all these ladybugs?

Why is gas so much cheaper in New Jersey? (Is it a conspiracy to keep their disproportionate numbers of SUVs on the road?)

And why is it against the law to pump it yourself there? I mean, what's going to get hurt?

Why did the New York Times decide to make the paper narrower, thus eliminating some of its content, and then decide to blow up the table of contents so that it now spans three pages and eliminates the content there, too?

What profession should I practice now that people will no longer be able to afford books because they have to spend every cent they have at the grocery store and gas station?

What is all that product filling the tables at Barnes & Noble?

Why do dogs hump people?

Why can't days be 36 hours?

Where does our daily increasing population live while no one is buying new houses anymore?

Why do people insist on thinking that if their dogs never taste fresh meat they won't ever want to kill anything?

Why do people drive Ford Explorers?

Why, in the middle of one of the country's largest apple-producing states, are the only organic apples available at the store flown in from New Zealand?

Why is it always one of your favorite socks (rarely one of the ones that never fit quite right) that goes into the laundry room's black hole--and has anyone ever found this cache of a billion orphan socks?

Why does Nelly scream as if the world is coming to an end when I leave her home or in the car, but when we're out on the trail, no distance is too far to be separated?

What the hell was that that she rolled in yesterday??

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pancakes for Nelly

Last night, I returned to childhood. I was transported there by a thought. As Nelly pressed her weight against my leg in bed, an imagining bloomed in my head. I was suddenly her. Looking through her eyes, seeing what she saw. It caused my brain to jolt, the way it used to when I was eight and looked up at the sky and tried to conceive of infinity. It hurt. It was exhilarating. It was profoundly weird.

How does she experience living?

Quite different from me, obviously. Obviously: this was just a few hours before I woke from a dream in which someone was pushing a knife into my back. I felt it slowly pierce my liver, my pancreas. The pain. I woke as I was dying.

I suspect Nelly dreams of other things. But being inside her head, for that moment, was to have the universe open up. Actually, it opened, it widened, it deepened, simultaneously. The whole thing vibrated. I could almost taste it. Inside Nelly's head, it seems, is nirvana, where all is the experience of this moment and every sense fires at once. People take really dangerous drugs so they can feel just what Nelly feels, being her doggy self curled in slumber against a warm leg.

Of course, I would especially love to be Nelly on the Sundays I make pancakes. That's because I always make dogcakes too, always have ever since I've had dogs. I see their noses lifted, palpating the air, as the butter spreads in the pan. Who can turn from the sight of that, that anticipation of future joy? (Who says dogs don't have a concept of the future? Watch them in the kitchen.) So: buckwheat, with a touch of nutmeg. Nelly waits by the stove with breath held, eyes glinting. She will wait till I tear her small pancake into pieces, and then she does her stuff. Ask nicely. High five. Talk. Quiet. Put your head down. Roll over. On your side. Wave. Those are it, all the tricks I taught her a couple of years ago now. I hope to teach her more soon. But I just lost eight months of my life into a black hole (boy, was it black) in which I did little that would qualify as living, much less teaching my dog new tricks. She's not averse to teaching herself some new ones, though they are not what I would necessarily consider fun and valuable. She does, however. We live in different universes values-wise.

My son and I eat our pancakes with maple syrup, and Nelly does not. Later my son lies in bed, and I see he is inhabiting that eight-year-old mind that is more akin to Nelly's than to mine. "Do you ever think what it would be like to not be you?" and I know he is experiencing that delicious dislocation of perceiving beingness, the I-in-space. And I was there too.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Here, and Gone

She rises up, dark and looming. Her fangs are eight inches long. Bigger and bigger. It's . . . it's Nelly, her shadow on the wall, thrown by a reading lamp. Yet that is in some ways her truest self, epic, ferocious. A wolf in Nelly clothing.

How cute! How pretty! Such a sweet little dog! they exclaim. They didn't see her today, trotting down the rail trail with a decapitated bunny in her mouth.

Let me hasten to record that she was not responsible for the demise of this truly cute, pretty, sweet little creature. Not this particular one, at any rate. A half hour before, I heard the inimitably excited bark she employs only on wildlife sightings, and then saw Peter Cottontail speed by through the trees, Nelly still far back trying to figure out the scent trails, doing demented figure eights. Then she returned to me, practically sighing.

This one was just lying there, already headless, as we walked back to the car. Nelly was on leash, for once. So I allowed her to pick it up and carry it for a while--and there is nothing like the emblematic pride of a dog carrying a dead animal: they were made for this. The carriage goes up; the step becomes impossibly light, like a dressage horse doing a passage. I don't want her to get the idea that she better run fast because I'm always going to snatch away her prize. Even though this is exactly what I intended to do. But let her have her few minutes of glory first. (I had just given her some expensive and caustic wormer last month to get rid of the lovely tapeworms that were colonizing her gut and the hair on her behind, and I was not eager to have my stomach churn again like that so soon. Or hers.) So I give her the thing she'll remember: What a nice mom, to let me have my bunny. Just like when I let my child stay up late or eat too much ice cream. What a nice mom. Then I revert to being the gatekeeper to homework hell.

There are benefits to having a small dog. Like the ability to pry her jaws apart with relative ease. Not so with Nora the great big Leonberger with jaws like a trap. Not so with Nora the big dog who then picked up the headless bunny when it was freed from Nelly's grasp.

She carried it back to the car with the same great pride. And got in, and proceeded to eviscerate it. Long glistening strings decorated the upholstery. This unhinged Nora's owner. Curiously, though I am the vegetarian in the pack, the sight of red globules disappearing quickly down the throat--hmmm, that's interesting: wonder what bit that is?--didn't bother me at all. In fact, I was thinking instead how Nora had just had the ideal meal, one that would have cost eight bucks at Adams! I would never spend that much on Nelly; she gets chicken feet and gizzards, at 30 cents a pound.

The dead flesh in cellophane is what really makes me queasy. Precisely because it doesn't make most people sick. And because I know that that is exactly what I would like after the butcher got through with me and loaded the white styrofoam tray.

From the high electric wire spanning our road, a long pine bough dangles. It blows back and forth, suspended by only one small twig. It has been there for months, looking as if it might fall at any second. A breath could bring it down. It might be there forever.

I walk Nelly down a road of permanence, a road of impermanence. Tumbling down the bank to the beaver swamp is a rusted car half. It must have been there since the forties. The person who once drove it has been in the cold ground lo these many years. He is forgotten. We look at his car, though, as we go by, Nelly very much alive.

It is our expectations that are the most durable things of all.

Perhaps we are at the same remove from death, she and I. Perhaps not. You never know. You never know.

There is a church-ish mystery in the phrase "This too shall pass." I have had cause to say it to myself a lot of late; I uttered its calming syllables to a friend in extremis the other day. But the thing is, it's not true. Only some things will pass; others will stay, swaying in the wind, forever. Context will die before they do.

But I find myself wondering. What kind of creature takes only the head of the rabbit?