Dog & Poem Therapy

Spend three weeks at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica and you will meet quite a few canine therapists. Moe, a standard poodle, was particularly healing for my mom; he ascended to her bed on lanky paws, folded them beneath himself like a colt, and rested his long muzzle on her hand. Kiki, a golden Lab, sat on the chair and gave my mother the long, appraising gaze of a consulting physician. And Jasmine,  a Sheltie, leapt catlike onto the bed with collie-like fur that felt as if she’d been lolling under a sunlamp.

We also had a poetry therapist. My friend Heather Hartley, whose debut collection, Knock Knock, just came out, emailed a poem every other day for me to read aloud. Dear Heather, I could not wrap my tongue around e. e. cummings’s “I was sitting in mcsorley’s.” (Sample verse: he’s a palping wreaths of badly Yep cigars who jim him why gluey grins topple together eyes pout gestures stickily point made glints squinting who’s a wink bum-nothing and money fuzzily mouths take big wobbly foot)

But the next day’s poem delightfully fit the dog party that took place in Room 2292: two therapy dogs in the room at once. Turns out the dog therapists visit schools, too, where children with reading difficulties–kids who can barely read aloud in class–will happily struggle with a book if Moe or Jasmine is listening to their efforts in a quiet corner. Stammer all you want, you will never get a harsh word from a golden Lab.

Get Drunk!

by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters; that’s our one imperative need.  So as not to feel Time’s horrible burden that breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without ceasing.

But what with? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.

And if, at some time, on the steps of a palace, in the green grass of a ditch, in the bleak solitude of your room, you are waking up when drunkenness has already abated, ask the wind, the wave, a star, the clock, all that which flees, all that which groans, all that which rolls, all that which sings, all that which speaks, ask them what time it is; and the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock will reply: “It is time to get drunk! So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time, get drunk; get drunk, and never pause for rest! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose!”

(Translation by Michael Hamburger, cited in more depth in comment below.)

Heather also emailed Cecilia Woloch‘s “Be Always Late.” It resonates deeply and wildly with the Baudelaire; I can’t find it online but intend to track it down in print.