For the past two weeks I’ve been having my laptop—my only computer, and a college-owned machine—updated. When that resulted in one of the parts not working, then it was repaired, and when in the course of the repair something else broke, it was sent in to the company, and when that company determined that one of the parts couldn’t be replaced, it was finally cobbled back together like a Frankenstein monster from the working parts of two different machines. Now I have it back, with a trackpad that isn’t sensitive to my touch and darts all over the place, seemingly on its own volition.
So now I’m back. Did you miss me?
I wasn’t able to read and respond to most of the things I usually try to pay attention to on the internets. And I wasn’t able to read and process my thoughts by writing about them, as I despise writing longhand and am not patient about doing stuff in stages, like writing a Word document and then emailing it to myself. I have been more dumb than usual.
And I’ve been thinking that blogging can feel like being the dog at the end of this poem by Stephen Dobyns, barking and barking. You don’t know if people hear you. You don’t know if they notice or if they are relieved if you stop for a few nights.
Sweet dreams, sweet memories, sweet taste of earth:
here’s how the dead pretend they’re still alive—
one drags up a chair, a lamp, unwraps
the newspaper from somebody’s garbage,
then sits holding the paper up to his face.
No matter if the lamp is busted and his eyes
have fallen out. Or some of the others
group together in front of the TV, chuckling
and slapping what’s left of their knees.
No matter if the screen is dark. Four more
sit at a table with glasses and plates,
lift forks to their mouths and chew. No matter
if their plates are empty and they chew only air.
Two of the dead roll on the ground
banging and rubbing their bodies together
as if in love of frenzy. No matter if their skin
breaks off, that their genitals are just a memory.
The head cemetery rat calls in all the city rats,
who pay him what rats find valuable—
the wing of a pigeon or ear of a dog.
The rats perch on tombstones and the cheap
statues of angels and, oh, they hold their bellies
and laugh, laugh until their guts half break;
while the stars give off the same cold light
that all these dead once planned their lives by,
and in someone’s yard a dog barks and barks
just to see if some animal as dumb as he is
will wake from sleep and perhaps bark back.
It is a dark time of year, November. It is a year since my father died.
Of course, it can be good for a person to go through the motions; sometimes that’s what you have to do in order to feel normal again. But sometimes the feeling that it’s just motion is a warning that what you’ve been doing doesn’t have enough meaning to make it worth the time—or worse, that the rats have been laughing at you.
This poem says, I think, that it’s just perception. If you’re hearing the rat laughter, then you’ll get dumb. If you’re listening for someone else “as dumb” then you’re bravely forging on. “No matter” if anyone comments. “No matter” if you’re making yourself ridiculous.
Still, I’m listening for a bark back.