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.

8 Responses to “Dog & Poem Therapy”

  1. Heather Says:

    Dear Dylan,
    Delighted to hear this! Yes, e.e. cummings’ “mcsorley’s” is definitely difficult to wrap around the tongue–so glad that others were shared with your mother. The gorgeous Baudelaire translation is by Michael Hamburger in a wonderful City Lights edition, Twenty Prose Poems–a gem.

  2. dean baquet Says:

    Dogs were nice. Poetry was wonderful. But even better seeing glimpses of your beautiful mom.

  3. Cecilia Woloch Says:

    Hi Dylan ~

    If you’d like, e-mail me and I’ll send a copy of “Be Always Late.”

    I’m so happy that dogs and poetry are partners in healing — hooray!


  4. dylan Says:

    What a joy to hear from you, Cecilia! Email’s been sent. Thank you so much.
    Update: Just received in the mail a signed copy of Carpathia, which includes not only “Be Always Late” but an extraordinary series of poems on the death of Woloch’s father that I know I’ll return to–and one that deeply moved me with its unexpected heartbreak: “Why I Believed, as a Child, That People Had Sex in Bathrooms.” (Read to the bottom of the profile on Woloch to find the poem; it’s never officially been published online.)

  5. Bobbi Buchanan Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Dylan. (And thanks Cecilia for passing it on to me.) Call me a kook, but stories like this always make me weep. Love the animal connection. Love that poem, too, and Cecilia’s version… On the subject of drinking poetry, literal and figurative, I also recommend Hafiz.

  6. dylan Says:

    Bobbi, I know so little about poetry, and this is how I learn–Heather sends me something by Cecilia Woloch, and then you steer me to Hafiz. Thank you! I just found a bit of this Sufi poet’s work online (one website, peacefulrivers, offers poems from different translators—always interesting. Here’s a line I loved, from “All the Hemispheres,” translated by Daniel Ladinsky:

    Change rooms in your mind for a day.

    And from a poem called “From the Large Jug, Drink,” translated by Thomas Rain Crowe:

    From the large jug, drink the wine of Unity,
    So that from your heart you can wash away the futility of life’s grief.

    But like this large jug, still keep the heart expansive.
    Why would you want to keep the heart captive, like an unopened bottle
    of wine?

    And Bobbi Buchanan is a writer, and editor-in-chief of The New Southerner.

  7. bern Says:

    holy mackerel!

  8. dylan Says:

    My dad, on discovering my blog.