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 StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
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IndieBound.org

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 

My Guide Dog is Dreaming

Her name is Caitlyn and she’s a yellow Labrador. Ten minutes ago she was eating her breakfast and now, curled on her bed, she’s talking in her sleep. It’s winter and very cold in Syracuse, New York and my canine pal has managed to take sustenance and go back to sleep in record time. 

Dogs found us thirty thousand years ago. One theory about this is that they coveted our midden heaps and then they stuck around. I won’t argue for or against this, save to say it’s possible dogs believed we were interesting and they liked us better than we liked ourselves. In turn they helped us hunt and stave off intruders. 

A dog dreaming by the fire is an ancient matter. A dog dreaming is a sign of love between us. Simple to say but most people don’t understand this. 

Love has many expressions. 

Free Cookies, Evident Dignities

No one gets a free cookie in the work camp called America. You kids get back to work. Get on your scabby knees and scrub the jetsam.

Last night two cabs in Brooklyn refused to give me a ride. No to the guide dog. No to the man.

The man was told, despite the ardor evident in his heart, and perhaps observable on his smiling face to get back on his scabby knees.

No taxi. No cookie. Same old.

I never get used to it.

This came after a beautiful poetry reading honoring the late poet Deborah Tall at Bookcourt, a lovely indie bookshop. We had a good turnout and wonderful readers and wisdom and lyrical intelligence were all about us. About. We were about together honoring a poet who passed away young and who’s posthumously published final book is now out.

I said to someone, “well they can’t take our souls” in reference to Trump. Later I had to say it about the taxi men. You can’t have my big plush heart you bastards. And I’m terribly sorry no one gave you a free cookie. I haven’t gotten mine either.

Meanwhile I almost got run over yesterday while walking down Sixth Avenue when a bicycle messenger ran a red light and almost struck me, save that my guide dog made a quick maneuver and saved us both.

Meanwhile strangers, pedestrians, witnesses jeered the bicyclist who fell of his damned bike and was scrambling to get to his feet.

Meanwhile I thought he’s just another guy who didn’t get his cookie. I couldn’t be angry. I was alive. He was alive. We went our separate ways.

Meanwhile I like this recipe for the free cookie:

I part Walt Whitman’s breakfast (whatever he was having)

2 parts reexamined opinion (almost anything by Naomi Wolf)

3 generous doses of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and—

3 equally generous doses of Susan Sontag

Garnish with Christopher Hitchens “Notes to a Young Contrarian”

You can tinker with this recipe. It will accept many ingredients but the caveat is that the input, the human sine qua non must represent ardor and a history of assisting others. So, for instance, Ayn Rand doesn’t quality. No also to Norman Podhoretz.

You can put in Hilda Doolittle or Roberto Clemente if you like.

And of course we’re talking about spirits, so it’s up to you how you’re going to get this into cookies.

See? I’ve nearly forgotten being almost killed and then denied my rights.

 

 

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

Yes, There's a Dog in My Heart…

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

Read: Dog in Heart, an excerpt from my upcoming book, as seen on my website: StephenKuusisto.com. Then tell me, is there a dog in YOUR heart?

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

Dog Language 101

The utility of language resides in two questions: what’s upwind and what’s the best way to get there?  For all I know dogs may have poetry—sonnets of smell—amusing to think so—but when I took my first solo walk down the subway stairs with guide dog Corky I knew she had a bold and ancient comprehension of our circumstances.  When you feel the language of others, even when its silent, you’re sensing competence.  Some days a silent language is all you need.

Once, riding a train from Helsinki to Tampere, I sat beside three old women.  They knew one another well.  You could see it in their postures, long familiarity.  One was knitting.  One had a book.  The third looked out the window.  Every now and then one of them would say a confirmatory thing—“snowing again” or “coffee?”  It was easy to be in their company.  I was a young man writing poetry and starting to understand the delicacies of language and consciousness.

With a dog you don’t have to be all tricky and wild.  Trouble free words will do.  Heartfelt silence will do.  Walking through the subway with Corky I let her guide me and kept my mouth shut.

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