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 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.
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