Jan. 6, 2008

Black Dog

by James DenBoer

Nothing goes on in his head.
It all goes on in his glands,
his muscles, his nose.
He chases every squirrel
every time he sees one,
barks and lunges at every cat;
he'd eat every bit of garbage
on the road if I didn't snap his lead hard.
He doesn't care in a way I can't.
He doesn't confuse past with present;
his only language is what's now
and under his black pads.
He's the perfect one, in fact,
to talk with, in the rain and wind
of January, when winter needs talking to
and writing down to bone-cold.
As with the many names of God,
I repeat his name often-he doesn't know
my name, he doesn't know this
is winter, he doesn't know
he could kill me with those teeth.
He listens to my chatter, my hum,
my chikk-chikk like a squirrel;
my noises keep him interested
and unworried. He scribbles
along the scent of air, his nails click
on wet black stones, he pulls his way
toward red lights on Fair Oaks Avenue,
he leads me back to start.

"Black Dog" by James DenBoer, from Stonework. © Swan Scythe Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French book illustrator Gustave Doré, born in Strasbourg, France, in 1832, the most prolific and famous illustrator in Europe in the 19th century. Doré was a child prodigy; his drawings were noticed by the time he was five. He never took art lessons, but by the age of 16 he'd moved to Paris and become the highest paid illustrator in France. His most famous illustrations adorned the pages of Dante's Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. Doré's and Poe's names are given equal billing on the cover of the earliest editions of Poe's poem. The Raven was Doré's only U.S. commission, and he died as he was finishing the engravings for it, in 1883.

It's the birthday of journalist, poet, and biographer Carl Sandburg born in Galesburg, Illinois (1878). He started traveling as a hobo in 1897 and collected nearly 300 folk songs, which were published in The American Songbag (1927). In 1922, he came out with the children's book Rootabaga Stories, and his publisher suggested that he try writing a biography of Abraham Lincoln for children. Instead, he wrote a six-volume chronicle of Lincoln's life for adults, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for its volumes on Lincoln during the Civil War. In 1945, Sandburg moved with his wife and her herd of prize-winning goats to Flat Rock, North Carolina, where he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Complete Poems (1951).

It's the birthday of author and philosopher Alan Watts, born in Chislehurst, England (1915), who interpreted Eastern philosophy for the Western world. His most well-known books include The Meaning of Happiness (1940), The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for the Age of Anxiety (1950), and The Way of Zen (1957). He once said, "To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float."

It's the birthday of French military leader Saint Joan of Arc, known as "the Maid of Orleans," born in Domrémy, France (1412), to peasant-stock parents. At the age of 13, she began to hear voices and see visions she believed came from saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret. These saints urged her to embark on a divine mission to help Charles Dauphin (later King Charles IV of France) and save France, embroiled at that time in the Hundred Years' War with England. She went to Charles and told her story; Charles sent her before a board of theologians who approved her religious claims; he then provided her with troops to lead into battle. Dressed as a male soldier, her hair shorn, carrying a white banner symbolic of God's blessing on the French campaign, Joan guided them to a decisive victory for France. Charles was later crowned king with Joan at his side. At age 18, Joan was divinely led to embark on another campaign against the English at Compiégne near Paris, this time without the support of Charles. She was captured by the Burgundian allies of the English, and was tried for heresy and sorcery at the ecclesiastical court in Rouen. She was burned in the Old Market Square in Rouen in 1431 at the age of 19. Years later, the Church reexamined her case and found her innocent.

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