Friday, August 20, 2010

‘I THINK I COULD TURN AND LIVE WITH THE ANIMALS…” (Walt Whitman)

One of my favorite poems from Walt Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS is the one that begins with the words, “I think I could turn and live with the animals, they’re so placid and self-contained. I stand and look at them long and long…” We live in an age where people are devoted to domesticated animals, and I hardly ever enter a home anywhere that is sans dog or cat. Even at St. Mary’s Convent, where we worship, pets are part of the family of the Sisters of St. Mary. On most days following services, three dogs and three cats are released from confinement and scamper into the breakfast room where they roam freely and station themselves under the tables, seeking and receiving head pats and table droppings.

Since I’m allergic to animal dander, I content myself with observing animals, liking, especially, large chocolate and black Labs, watching squirrels frolic in the front yard, and staging long staring sessions with deer. Birds watch us closely when we breakfast outdoors, and cardinals have a habitat in the trees alongside our drive. A skunk holed up in the garage last year, but we weren’t too appreciative of the visit from this smelly critter.

The latest news about animal lovers features a woman in the woods of British Columbia who kept ten full-grown bears on her property. A neighbor said that she thought the bear keeper just didn’t realize that bears aren’t domesticated animals. When police investigated further, they found a pig and a raccoon sleeping in one of the bedrooms of the woman’s home. News reporters speculated that the bears were around to protect the woman because she was growing a plot of “weed.”

Although I can’t have a domesticated animal, I appreciate most critters, and I console myself with the thought that a dog wouldn’t want to be penned up here on the campus of the University of the South anyway. All Greenlaws (my mother’s ancestors) were, and are, fond of dogs and cats, especially dogs. My Great-Uncle Ed Greenlaw had a fox terrier that he taught to use a water pistol, which the dog obligingly used to welcome (?) visitors to his home. Uncle Ed loved “Zip” dearly, and wrote a diary supposedly authored by the fox terrier, a copy of which is now in the LSU archives. He was fond of quoting the aphorism, “The more I know of men, the more I love my dog” and laid claims to speaking dog language. An animal hater in New Orleans poisoned Zip, and my uncle became even more vociferous about quoting that aphorism. In my book, GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR, I tell the story of Great Uncle Ed in a rhyming poem entitled “In Defense of Doggerel.”

Recently, my friend Vickie purchased a copy of one of Pinyon Publishing’s newest books entitled OPEN THE GATES, Poems for Young Readers, by Dabney Stuart with paintings by Susan E. Elliott, and I enjoyed a good read of the poetry. Although the poems feature critters that aren’t domesticated, any animal lover will love the playful lyrics about whales, eels, wolves, armadillos, etc. The renditions and the renderings call forth a sense of wonder and amusement in readers. I wrote about Susan Elliott’s paintings in a recent blog, and these animal renderings are enchanting watercolors that display her talent and complement the delightful poems by Stuart. Dabney Stuart is a poet of renown who has published fifteen volumes of poetry and is a former resident at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy. He has also held numerous fellowships and won the Library of Virginia Poetry Prize in 2006. His works are in the audio and video archives at the Library of Congress.

Pinyon Publishing is the publisher of my most recent work with Isabel Anders, THE CHANT OF DEATH.
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