Thursday, February 23, 2012

HOW TO LIKE IT by Stephen Dobyns and THE CRY OF THE WILD GOOSE by Frankie Laine

Today, February 24th, was like a perfect spring day in these Kentucky woods until it clouded up and rained late in the day.  Just before it rained, my wife and I were cutting brush on the edge of the farm pond.  We heard the cry of the wild geese before we saw them, flapping convoys in V formation winging their way north, lower than usual--perhaps because of the cloud cover.  A sight that takes our breath away, year after year.

Stephen Dobyns has written many breathtaking works of art.  One of my favorites is his midlife crisis poem, "How To Like It."  A dog is featured here, perhaps the same English setter as in Winter's Journey, but here the dog is symbolic of the itchy tendency of a man to break off his relationship and light out, smelling the wanderlust of fall.  It works for the wanderlust of spring too, as in the Frankie Laine recording of  "The Cry of the Wild Goose."

Last night I heard the wild goose cry
winging north in the cold blue sky.
I tried to sleep but it wasn't no use
cause I am a brother to the old wild goose.

The cabin is warm and the snow is deep
and I got a woman who lies asleep.
She'll wake up at tomorrow's dawn
and she'll find, poor critter, that her man is gone.

Spring is coming and the ice will break
and I can't linger for a woman's sake.
She'll see a shadow pass overhead
and she'll find a feather beside my bed.

Cause my heart knows what the wild goose knows,
and I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose--which is best?
A wandering fool or a heart at rest?

Well, doesn't he know that geese mate for life?  Apparently not.

The Stephen Dobyns poem below is both funny and sad--sad because the man is torn, having not quite learned how to love deeply enough to be happy, staying true to what is real and important.  If you have not yet read this one before, you are in for a treat.


These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.

A man and a dog descend their front steps.

The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.

But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which are shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.

The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.

Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn't been used since last winter.

The dog says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.

The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.

But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.

But the dogs says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.

How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing? The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?

But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.

And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept--
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.


You can hear Frankie Laine sing "Cry of the Wild Goose" at this link:

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