Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike (1932-2009)

It's hard to believe he's gone. No writer was more instrumental to my own early years as a reader. I cut my literary teeth on the short stories in Pigeon Feathers and novels like Rabbit Run. I have taught "A & P" nearly every semester since 1973. And I was supposed to teach his deeply moving poem "Dog's Death" today but ran out of time. Little did I know that he wouldn't live until I get to it on Thursday.

Dog's Death
John Updike

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog! Good dog!"

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

1 comment:

Variations On A Theme said...

I have always loved that poem. It gives me goosebumps at the end.