The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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Dog Years a memoir by Mark Doty

May 14th, 2008 · · Book Reviews


When my eyes first fell on the cover of Dog Years I experienced a little thrill of recognition. The two dogs in the photograph retreating down a snowy road bore more than a passing resemblance to my own pair, a boxy black Lab and a plumy-tailed golden retriever. Of course I had to read the book! That was a good decision.

Mark Doty is a distinguished poet who has published seven volumes of poetry as well as several books of memoirs. His writing is informed by a painterly eye and an encompassing spirituality. He is a man with a very refined vision. Because his writing is so lucid he opens many vistas for the reader find.

Arden and Beau, his dogs, are portrayed with a marvelous sensitivity and verisimilitude against the backdrop of cataclysmic events in both his own life (the loss of a partner to AIDS) and in the larger world (the events of 911). This is the portrayal of a man grappling with the big questions. Those questions to which there are never any immutable answers. The process of examination is eloquent and poignant and inspiring to read.

“The physical reinvention of the world is endless, relentless, fascinating, exhaustive; nothing that seems solid is. If you could stand at just a little distance in time, how fluid and shape-shifting physical reality would be, everything hurrying into some other form, even concrete, even stone.

But in the photo, my two princes are still loping up the street, walking in step, as they often did, in the early winter darkness that’s just beginning to deepen, headed through a snow which has stilled any traffic and muffled the town, so that there’s no sound but a little wind and wave-lapping, and the chink of some beached boat’s chain, and the footfalls of dogs headed toward a towel-drying, to wipe away the melted snow that’s chilled their coats, toward dinner and then the long ritual of licking paws, cleaning away the residue of damp and then sleep, in a warm house while the enveloping night comes on.”

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