TCS: My Dog Practices Geometry – Poems for Work Like a Dog Day

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“I care not for a man’s religion whose
dog and cat are not the better for it.”

— Abraham Lincoln


Today is ‘Work Like a Dog Day’ and that got me thinking about the work of dogs. There are of course the obvious dog professions: police and military dogs, drug- and bomb- sniffing dogs, and dogs who find people who are lost, or buried by an avalanche or an earthquake. There are seeing-eye dogs and other kinds of assistance dogs for people with disabilities. There are therapy dogs for the traumatized and for people who are having trouble communicating with other people, and dogs who visit the sick or old to bring them cheer and comfort.

There many dogs who are homeless who have to work very hard just to survive.

But lots of dogs that coexist with people have the 24/7 job of Family Pet. This is not easy work. You have to interpret a language in which you only understand a few words, relying more on the faces of the humans around you and the tone of their voices than what they say. It’s easy to make a mistake, and then you get yelled at, and a lot of the time, you don’t even know what you did that made them mad at you, so you could avoid doing it again. What’s remarkable is that most dogs are pretty brilliant at their family job, and we love them for it. The biggest drawback to having a dog in your family is that they just don’t live long enough. They get old a lot faster than we do.

So today’s poems are about dogs whose work is being a family member.


The New Dog

by Linda Pastan

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities –

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.

“The New Dog” from A Dog Runs Through It, © 2018 by Linda Pastan – Norton & Company

Linda Pastan (1932 – ) was born in New York City, but now lives in Maryland; she was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995.



by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance-
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

“Dharma” from Sailing Alone Around the Room, © 2002 by Billy Collins – Random House

Billy Collins  (1941 – ) dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, was a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003), and has published many poetry collections, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning and Nine Horses: Poems. It was Questions About Angels, published in 1991, that put him in the literary spotlight. 


Mongrel Heart

by David Baker

Up the dog bounds to the window, baying
. . . like a basset his doleful, tearing sounds
. . . . . . from the belly, as if mourning a dead king,

and now he’s howling like a beagle – yips, brays,
. . . gagging growls – and scratching the sill paintless,
. . . . . . that’s how much he’s missed you, the two of you,

both of you, mother and daughter, my wife
. . . and child. All week he’s curled at my feet,
. . . . . . warming himself and me watching more TV,

or wandered the lonely rooms, my dog shadow,
. . . who like a poodle now hops, amped-up windup
. . . . . . maniac yo-yo with matted curls and snot nose

smearing the panes, having heard another car
. . . like yours taking its grinding turn down
. . . . . . our block, or a school bus, or bird-squawk,

that’s how much he’s missed you, good dog,
. . . companion dog, dog-of-all-types, most excellent dog
. . . . . I told you once and for all we should never get.

 “Mongrel Heart, from Midwest Ecologue, © 2005 by David Baker, W.W. Norton & Company

David Baker (1954 – ) was born in Bangor, Maine, but raised in Missouri. Professor at Denison University and poetry editor of the Kenyon Review.


My Dog Practices Geometry

by Cathryn Essinger

I do not understand the poets who tell me
that I should not personify. Every morning
the willow auditions for a new role

outside my bedroom window—today she is
Clytemnestra; yesterday a Southern Belle,
lost in her own melodrama, sinking on her skirts.

Nor do I like the mathematicians who tell me
I cannot say, “The zinnias are counting on their
fingers,” or “The dog is practicing her geometry,”

even though every day I watch her using
the yard’s big maple as the apex of a triangle
from which she bisects the circumference

of the lawn until she finds the place where
the rabbit has escaped, or the squirrel upped
the ante by climbing into a new Euclidian plane.

She stumbles across the lawn, eyes pulling
her feet along, gaze fixed on a rodent working
the maze of the oak as if it were his own invention,

her feet tangling in the roots of trees, and tripping,
yes, even over themselves, until I go out to assist,
by pointing at the squirrel, and repeating, “There!

There!” But instead of following my outstretched
arm to the crown of the tree, where the animal is
now lounging under a canopy of leaves,

catching its breath, charting its next escape,
she looks to my mouth, eager to read my lips,
confident that I—who can bring her home

from across the field with a word, who
can speak for the willow and the zinnia—
can surely charm a squirrel down from a tree.

“My Dog Practices Geometry” from My Dog Does Not Read Plato, © 2004 by Cathryn Essinger – Main Street Rag

Cathryn Essinger was Ohio’s Poet of the Year in 2005, and has published three books of poetry: A Desk in the Elephant House, which won the Walt McDonald First Book Award,
My Dog Does Not Read Plato, and What I Know about Innocence. 


The Sweetness of Dogs

by Mary Oliver

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go

and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself

thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up
into my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.

“The Sweetness of Dogs” from Dog Songs © 2013 by Mary Oliver – Penguin Books

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 2007, The New York Times called her “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.


 Death of a Dog

          Howard 2002-2017

by Ted Kooser

The next morning I felt that our house
had been lifted away from its foundation
during the night, and was now adrift,
though so heavy it drew a foot or more
of whatever was buoying it up, not water
but something cold and thin and clear,
silence riffling its surface as the house
began to turn on a strengthening current,
leaving, taking my wife and me with it,
and though it had never occurred
to me until that moment, for fifteen years
our dog had held down what we had
by pressing his belly to the floors,
his front paws, too, and with him gone
the house had begun to float out onto
emptiness, no solid ground in sight.

“Death of a Dog” from Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems, © 2018 by Ted Kooser – Copper Canyon Press

Ted Kooser (1939 – ) was born in Ames, Iowa. He was a two-term Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry chosen by the Librarian of Congress. He used his time as laureate to further the cause of poetry with American readers. Partnering with the Poetry Foundation, he began the “American Life in Poetry” program, which offers a free weekly poem to newspapers across the United States, aiming to raise the visibility of poetry. He’s won four Pushcart Prizes, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and a slew of other honors and awards.


The Dog

by Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was born in Rye, New York, and wrote over 500 pieces of light verse. He published his first collection of poems, Hard Lines, in 1931, and became the best-known American creator of humorous verse.


Enjoy the “Dog Days of Summer” while they last. 


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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