A Dog Loves Me

A dog loves me.  The cleansed skins of the apple trees darken with morning sun.  A dog loves me.  Before the first light of day Venus appears from behind a winter cloud.  A dog’s love is not presumptive: it is no mere wish.

There are mythical scenes in human lives—light bulb moments, the college kid understanding Emerson for the first time, and, as a friend of mine would say, he “bumps along the ceiling of his skull” for myth is one of the lauds, the oldest prayer.

But a dog loves me.  She wakes me early.  We stand beside the Asian Maple tree, its hydra branches dusted with snow and we talk.

When a man or woman talks to a dog its not always a spoken thing.

My dog scents the new snow, putting her snout deep in a snow bank.  She snorts like a horse.  Snow magnifies the delicate scents of mice.  The man says nothing but sees inwardly expanding circles on water—smells broadcast in snow—and as he thinks it, he sees what his dog sees.  Forget your occupation or ideas of sensible success.  The man and dog stand in the cuneiform world of things unseen.

But forget poetry.  This can be diverting, this business of man and dog moving together in subordinate thought.  In a business meeting I hear my dog sigh from under the table.  She’s heard the grey voices above her, voices so monotonous she is asking: “who among the humans besides my good man is happy to be alive?”  I know this is what she’s saying.

In an elevator she smells one man’s fear and another’s sorrows.  We’re just going down two floors.  It’s an ordinary day.  “The people,” she thinks, “are passively borne by dark emotions.”  I know this is what she’s saying.

Riding an escalator in Macy’s (the original flagship store in New York) she knows the false symmetry of human occasions, thinks the place needs a thousand wild birds.  I know this is what she’s saying.

We move to and fro.  Swiftly.

She loves me.  There is never a moment she does not love me.  We move to and fro.  All day, every day, we have light bulb moments.

We talk.

We ride uptown on Fifth Avenue and for once the cab driver is friendly.  He likes dogs.  He’s from Egypt.  His sister back in Cairo is deaf.  He knows a lot about struggle.  My dog smiles at him.  Honestly.  She smiles.  He asks if he can pet her.  I tell him he can.  He smiles.  I know he’s telling her to keep up the good work.  I know she’s telling him about her fleet footed life.  She’s telling him life is life and we can go places.

We move to and fro. A dog loves me.

**

Once upon a time, years ago, long before I got a guide dog, I climbed to the top of a ski jump tower in Finland.  I was with a friend who thought this would be fun.  The skiing season was over and the tower was deserted.  We climbed a ladder that seemed to never end.  Up and up.  I’ve never been good with heights.  My stomach felt green and cold.  But I didn’t want to appear cowardly.  I kept going.  The top of the ladder met a platform where the skiers line up.  The mighty drop beyond was a terrifying thing.  We stood there for a time, right at the lip.  I remember thinking as I stood there, that truth and love will always go astray but visceral fear—that you can count on.

But now a dog loves me.  She stops me at the edge of the railway platform.  We talk.  She likes her life.  She knows a great deal about quelling fear.

We talk. She says fear is not what people suppose—its not just danger, its not knowing what to do.  She says dogs know what to do.  She likes her life.  She loves me.

Dog Schmooze

Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Dog in Heart

If there's a dog in your heart it will do no damage.

Dog Man Writes to Parts of Himself

If there’s a dog in your heart it will do you no damage. If there’s a thistle inside you, you’re in trouble. Only weeks after getting my first guide dog, and walking freely on the ordinary streets I met the thistle hearted all around me. They were people who lived in the famine of effect—unhappy inside and projecting unwarranted hostility outside. Meeting them with a dog at my side, and a dog inside me, a protective dog of the heart, well, that was different—to say the least. Standing in line at the bank a thistle-woman caught sight of Corky and screamed quite literally: “You damned disabled with your damned dogs!” She waved her arms like she was on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. There were three or four other customers. They all backed away. She kept shouting her wild gibberish. And Corky wagged her tail. I felt it against my left leg. She was telling me that two worlds described our rewards, we were in tandem, we were in accord.  We were a musical chord. Her tail was saying: “each lives in one, all in the other.”

So I smiled. Just smiled. I probably looked like a simpleton. But our dog heart was smiling. The woman turned and bolted out the door. Of course that’s when the other customers began speaking up. “Wow, she was really out of line!” “There must be something wrong with her!” But I had Morse Code dog heart—which was all I needed.

While still at Guiding Eyes I’d kept a journal—titled “Dog Man Writes to Parts of Himself”.

One entry read:

You were always a dog in your heart—you were forced to conclude the matter when, one morning, early, you felt a giddiness, a happenstance wakeful half-assed joy. It wasn’t the electrolysis of sex or the sticky dendritic jazz of chocolate or bourbon that marked your inner life. It was dog, dog-ness, dog all the while. You were standing at the window, still wearing your pajamas. You felt like running into the yard and rolling in snow. You didn’t care what the neighbors might think. A good snow roll in your PJs was in order. You saw that now, saw it was always “the thing”—to be a dog and sharply alive with all your senses in order. No tax forms. No darkness blotting out hope. Dogs are the darkness. Dogs are hope. You saw there was nothing more to be said about the matter.

**

I was insensibly happy. The person bearing my name had been transformed. He was lighter, like a character in fiction—the fairy tale dog man was walking, running. He didn’t have to explain himself. That was the great thing. He didn’t have to explain the convoluted gears and motors of his brain.

Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

The MacDowell Colony: Stephen Kuusisto's Current Home Away from Home

Any writer/artist lucky enough to stay at The MacDowell Colony is indeed very lucky.  Here, Steve Kuusisto and his guide dog, Nira, can do their best thinking.  Nira’s job is to provide inspiration as Steve works on his next book, tentatively titled “What a Dog Can Do”.

Steve Kuusisto and guide dog, Nira

Photo and post submitted by @ConnieKuusisto: Steve, in red sweater, is sitting in a Stickley chair in front of the fireplace in the cabin he’s staying in. His yellow Labrador guide dog, Nira, is lying on the floor by his side.