The Dog Who Loves You

It’s always seemed to me that adults, by which I mean most adults, by which I mean many of those I’ve met, have difficulty giving thanks. I don’t mean just saying “thank you” when the barista hands you a latte, but worshipful thanks. I suppose I’m talking about praise where creation is concerned.  If you’re agonistic or an atheist you’ll see straightaway the predicament I’m in. I’m now standing on the thin ice of religious devotion and some might stop reading this because of it. But you see, what I’m really talking about is the love of dogs. Everyday I give thanks to creation for dogs.

The Dog Who Loves You Stephen Kuusisto

(Image: Young 10-year old boy, Stephen Kuusisto’s step-son Ross, is lying in the grass. Yellow Labrador and guide dog “Corky” is standing above him and is about to “kiss” his nose.”)

Tenderness, dog spirit, moves beside and within me. She has me talking to myself in the street. Stranger I am well. My hands, so often clenched fly open. I am loved by dogs.

This of course sounds ridiculous. The great dog spirit, Canis Tempus is walking me straight out of the profane world.

But this is so.

Shortly after I was paired with met first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named “Corky” I rode the subway to Coney Island.  It was April and cold but the famed Boardwalk was a great place for a brisk walk. Hardly any people were about. We pounded over the wood planks fronting the ocean and I talked to Corky softly. She held her head up, very high, to scent the Atlantic, and it was easy to imagine she was experiencing delight.

Aristotle defined happiness as “human flourishing” which he said involved activity and exhibiting virtue, and both should be in accord with reason. “Corky,” I said,“you are my virtue.” I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant.

“She can’t be my full virtue,” I thought. “She can only be the agent of my honor.” “But it’s lovely, Corky, walking this boardwalk with you and the ghost of Aristotle,” I said half aloud.

A policeman approached us and said, “Are you OK?”

“He’s seen my lips moving,” I thought. “He probably thinks I’m lost.”

“I’m just happy,” I told the cop who was taken aback.

“That’s a first for me,” he said. “I mean, no one ever says that, even at Coney Island!”

“You know,” I said, “I grew up blind in the middle of nowhere and never learned how to travel. Then I got this incredible dog! I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”

Of course I was more than happy. I was thankful. Now, 24 years later, I’m still mindful and full of praise for the dogs in my life.

The dog who loves you turns up in your dreams. Last night she was a woman on a train who said her name was “Evensong” (I kid you not) and she was old and dignified.

The dog who loves you is part of your soul (I kid you not) and she insists that mirth never dies. That is, as they say, how things stand.

Carl Jung had it wrong: the anima or animus is not the man or woman inside you but the dog who loves you; the one who first loved you; who loves you now. Sorry Yeats, here’s how the poem should go:

“Young man lift up your russet brow,

And lift your tender eyelids maid,

And brood on dogs and dogs who love…”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Dogs, Hats, and Faith

As the new year dawns I’m doing my best—that is, I’m drinking coffee. And since I went to bed last night at 9:30 (at the insistence of a small dog who thought it was the right thing when the outside temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit) well because of this I’m wide awake sans hangover.

To be fair the dog didn’t make me go to bed. It’s good to distrust people who say dogs make them do anything other than feeding them and taking them outside. I went to bed early because it seemed like a good idea.

I’ve been taking antidepressants for over twenty years. They help me stay “in the game” but they also make me tired at night and that’s just the way it is. By taking Celexa I live on dog time. Early to bed, early to rise. I’m Ben Franklin with pills and dogs.

What are dogs and antidepressants for? I imagine they’re about hope. Even facing the aborning year which cannot be promising, what with the looting of the planet, corporatized warfare, slavish and corrupt politicians of every stripe, human trafficking, the new slavery, which is old slavery tied to offshore banking—I’ll stop in a moment—even with the assault on the poor, the infirm—here I am again tossing my moth eaten chapeau onto a fountain of hope knowing one of my two dogs will retrieve it.

Dogs teach us to put our wet hats on again.

They teach us to avoid rising to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training, as Archilochus would have it and which I’ve always taken to mean “get on with it brother.”

The wet hat has some toothmarks.

Lots of people sneer at hope. It is for one thing akin to faith and nothing gets kicked more often than faith, even the faithful do it.

I agree with Maxine Hong Kingston: “In a time of destruction, create something.”

Dogs say wet hats are better than no hats.

Dogs say you can indeed get there from here.

Dogs say even wearing that hat you’re not as bad as you appear.

Or they say, well, you might be as bad as you appear—so throw your hat again and we’ll bring it back. You can try for a new look.

A hat damp with hope is still a hat.

A damp hat is expectation halved, still wearable.

The hat your dog brings means you have a plan.

Notes on Christmas Morning 

Those houses in Iceland like boats half buried

And their prows pointing to heaven

We were driving aimlessly

I was chattering about Snorri Sturluson

As literature students will do

My friend Gary wanted a good cigar

Saarikoski: “We were simply too simple.

Time went by, men and women, bellies and bird song.

We came to be old, we fluttered, that’s all.”

Wind in the chimney flu

Sun not up

Saarikoski: “The canaries on their way to the Faeroe Islands are lurking in their pleasures.”


When I was younger I complained about everything

E. Power Biggs on the radio

Gramophone shards in my boots

Poetry was like a yellow flower handed me by a strange woman

What I knew I really knew

Ice covered the pond like an illness on a pretty face

I was sad in my twenties

Sometimes I read the right things

Silly old Kalevala and John Donne


I love this Jesus who lets me stay blind

Thoughts and poems circulate


I love Pasolini’s Gospel According to St. Matthew

I would also like to be a Catholic-Marxist


Your Voice in Times of Tyrants…

If words have import they must be like rain. Be careful how you speak. A torrent and invested meanings are washed away. A pittance and if you’re lucky perhaps you’ve written a poem, though this is not likely or assured.

In the dictionary of rain are clues to sailing and growing wheat and yes, how to raise children and support the aged.

I’ve not read the entire book of rain speech though I’m pursuing it.

I understand as I open my throat I’ve a chance to turn this place into a cafe chantants with many dancers.

I do not know who you are.

Every opportunity for speech is a moral concourse with the body and landscape.

The first day the great tenor Enrico Caruso really sang—that is, lifting his face to the middle distance and calling up a rare angel—that first day, he felt larger than anyone, any man, like a colossus, but with this trick, he was a giant you could see through for such is a voice, an invitation to incorporeality.

This happened in Cairo in the Ezbekieh Gardens. The whole district had singers on every corner. Dancers. Puppeteers. Baccarat players. Men who put small coins on their tongues to kiss passing strangers.

He sang for the champagne supper crowd at the El Dorado, for the winners of trente et quarante…

And the voice was there, lifting his heavy torso. You could still see stars in Cairo in those days.

Know what you’re voice is.

Stand for your voice in times of tyrants.

A Brief Essay on Squalorship

Over lunch yesterday with my friend P (whose identity I shall protect, for he is a goodly man) I uttered the word “squalorship” when detailing “accide”—the term for academic indolence. We laughed at the refinements of mispronunciation. Then, since I’m a blind person, I forked up a slice of lemon from my mediterranean salad. I chewed and swallowed. As for “squalorship” I prided myself on having coined a new term.

Resisting accide I decided to look it up. “Squalorship” is, according the Seadict online dictionary:

The living conditions available to a student who has been issued a

student loan from the Federal or Provincial governments;

also the living conditions available once the collection agencies 

start looking for the loans to be paid back.


I ate the lemon. I wondered “what is my name now” having swallowed. I thought “there are divisions of waters between the living and the dead; on the far shore, outside of time, where money is useless, has my father, long gone, also eaten a lemon?”

Here in the half destroyed world where we paint the walls blue, where children leave finger prints on the windows, what reconnaissance do we have? Which protean shape of identity becomes me, or you?

Lemon eater. Glad fool. Resisting accide. Still demanding cut glass ideas against Lilliputian strings.


Post lemon, its taste still on my tongue, I walked up a hill and thought of John Locke and his Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke, because he was Jefferson’s muse—more than Montesquieu or Hume. Why Jefferson with lemon? I’m preparing a course on Jefferson’s lives of ideas, both the good ones and the bad.

“That any man should think fit to cause another man — whose salvation he heartily desires — to expire in torments, and that even in an unconverted state, would, I confess, seem very strange to me, and I think, to any other also. But nobody, surely, will ever believe that such a carriage can proceed from charity, love, or goodwill. ”

Excerpt From: John Locke. “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” iBooks.

Of converted states I know very little, I confess. I can admit this much. And like Jefferson, I’m more of a deist (small “d”) than a contrarian Christian.

I love Locke’s figure (transitive) of a carriage. If salvation has value it must reside in motion. If motion has value it must be progressive.

What do I believe? Resisting accide. Value in the proper carriage.


“What of squalorship?”

College should be free.

Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson and George Washington both enjoyed lemons.


Hooray for St. Stephen's Day!

Today is St. Stephen’s Day. This is an official holiday in Finland and in many other countries. It’s traditionally a feasting day although we never observed that ritual in my family. In the Kuusisto tribe, the day after Christmas was typically the Alka-Seltzer day with perhaps a little hair of the dog solely for medicinal purposes.

The "real" St. Stephen was a troublemaker because he talked about hypocrisy and you can read about his story in Acts. But to make a long story short, St. Stephen pissed off just about everyone in Jerusalem including the future St. Paul (who in those days went by the name of Pee Wee Lefkowitz but who later changed his name to Saul of Tarsus and who later changed his name to Paul because he found that hellenistic christian chicks really dug that name).

Pee Wee had St. Stephen hauled in for blasphemy and they had a show trial which lasted about five minutes. Of course in those days five minutes was a long time and Stephen had a vision in which he saw Jesus seated at the right hand of God. This proves that Stephen was dyslexic. But anyway, he’s the only martyred saint to have had a vision that included both the father and the son together. This is why St. Stephen is the patron saint of father and son dry cleaning establishments.

Since people in general tend to like clean clothing and most folks tend to talk too much, Stephen became a big time saint and there are churches in his name all over Christendom. No one really knows why his day is a feasting day since Stephen was not much of an eater. Nor does anyone really know why his ceremonial day follows Christmas since in real life he was stoned to death in August. (August is the best month for stonings because the ground is dry and the rocks are easy to get ahold of.) Many speculate that the day after Christmas was named for St. Stephen because this is when most people would like to ritually kill their relatives. I am not sure this is a reliable explanation.

As a footnote, I think its of some interest that St. Paul and St. Stephen are kind of a Cain and Able combo in the world of hagiography which proves that you don’t have to be too darned good to become a saint. When you get right down to it, there’s hope for everybody.


Happy for the Hornets, Thank You

Dear Lord or Lady of Creation:

We small-ish creatures down here are grateful for all your gifts and I should be remiss indeed if I forgot to mention the hornets. They are lovely. Their wings are delicate as hand blown glass, and they sparkle like motile slivers from a rainbow as they flit with dark purpose around the woodpile. How delicate they are! Their waists are thin as the illuminated periods in hand painted bibles. Oh, and their abdomens swell with mystery and all that hot music of private algebra. And I haven’t even begun to marvel at their angled eyes that can discern soft innocence from a distance of a thousand yards.

Yes, they are perfect engines of suspicion without consciousness, these furious and intractable little bastards. How adoringly we embrace them with our soft and child like appendages, our little bums and piggly toes, each one of us insolvent in the richness of faith. Dear Creator, thank you.

Oh and we are also grateful for anaphylactic shock, and swollen tongues.

Thank you.

We are beseechingly yours in this world of raw and unexpected alarms. Forgive us our ungovernable innocence. How foolish we were to conceive of playgrounds and swingsets. How errant our ways in your garden where the lesson is clear: stay inside. Don’t move. Bow and pray behind curtained windows. Repeat as needed.

Faithfully yours,

Homo Erectus