March 21, 2003


In a previous life, I majored in English and considered becoming a poet. I even studied under a brilliant poetry teacher named David Kirby.

But that was before I decided that making money would help further my career as a consumer of food, housing and petroleum products. I remain big fans of those products, so here I remain, well-fed, well-sheltered and on a full tank, compensated handsomely for chronicling the weirdness of normal daily life.

But every now and again, I remember that I used to be 20 and that I spent time reading poetry about cows playing baseball and popes chanting the phrase "Hot dog, you bet."

Back when I was unencumbered by life's fishnets of mortgages, matching shoes and sobriety, I used to read a lot of beat poetry. I once saw Allen Ginsberg in the quad of the student union at Florida State University recite from his epic poem "Howl."

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-

ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

contemplating jazz...

There was something beyond surreal about seeing him all hairy and long-sleeved in the hot Florida afternoon recite these amazing words, while tie-dyed freaks sat cross-legged and comatose on the ground and sorority girls in tank tops and striped Dolphin shorts scurried past. I'll never forget how much hair spilled out of his head. It just seemed to billow from his scalp and his chin and god knows where else. His face seemed like it was peeking through this hair curtain, there was so much of it.

I've grown up now and moved on to less serious verse. Cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian Baxter Black is my cup of tea these days. I'm reminded of all this because today's edition of The Writer's Almanac, hosted by Garrison Keillor, is one of my favorite things on public radio, and they send out a daily version by e-mail.

Each day, Keillor talks about various writers and poets and then offers a poem that usually has nothing to do with anything of significance on that day.

Today's offering is "Dog," by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It's one of my favorites.


The dog trots freely in the street

and sees reality

and the things he sees

are bigger than himself

and the things he sees

are his reality

Drunks in doorways

Moons on trees

The dog trots freely thru the street

and the things he sees

are smaller than himself

Fish on newsprint

Ants in holes

Chickens in Chinatown windows

their heads a block away

The dog trots freely in the street

and the things he smells

smell something like himself

The dog trots freely in the street

past puddles and babies

cats and cigars

poolrooms and policemen

He doesn't hate cops

He merely has no use for them

and he goes past them

and past the dead cows hung up whole

in front of the San Francisco Meat Market

He would rather eat a tender cow

than a tough policeman

though either might do.

And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory

and past Coit's Tower

and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee

He's afraid of Coit's Tower

but he's not afraid of Congressman Doyle

although what he hears is very discouraging

very depressing

very absurd

to a sad young dog like himself

to a serious dog like himself

But he has his own free world to live in

His own fleas to eat

He will not be muzzled

Congressman Doyle is just another

fire hydrant

to him

The dog trots freely in the street

and has his own dog's life to live

and to think about

and to reflect upon

touching and tasting and testing everything

investigating everything

without benefit of perjury

a real realist

with a real tale to tell

and a real tail to tell it with

a real live


democratic dog

engaged in real

free enterprise

with something to say

about ontology

something to say

about reality

and how to see it

and how to hear it

with his head cocked sideways

at streetcorners

as if he is just about to have

his picture taken

for Victor Records

listening for

His Master's Voice

and looking

like a living questionmark

into the

great gramophone

of puzzling existence

with its wondrous hollow horn

which always seems

just about to spout forth

some Victorious answer

to everything

Posted by Jeff at March 21, 2003 08:21 AM | TrackBack