How To Like It
By Stephen Dobyns
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 can 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 were 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 dog 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.
From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post's online books coverage. "Stephen Dobyns's whimsical poem about a restless householder consulting his dog on how to escape ordinary life makes me laugh out loud," writes Mary Karr. "But the end delivers a knife twist to kill off the unexamined life. How do we resolve the need for comfort with desires that press us in wild directions? Sometimes like this." The poem is from Dobyns' book Velocities: New and Selected Poems, 1966-1992.
I had a nice lazy relaxing morning at home while Daniel was at the last day of the DC robotics competition, at which his team did not do as well as they had hoped, which he came home unhappy about, but they also had Mongolian barbecue and sang karaoke and he rode the Metro by himself for the first time this weekend, so in general he seems pleased with the event and they're hoping to finish better in the Chesapeake regional competition in a few weeks. We even got to watch a bit of the competition on the NASA TV internet channel at home when Daniel texted to tell us that it was on. Meanwhile Adam persuaded Paul to adopt a Superpoke Pet on Facebook -- having had enough of telling me which items he thought I should buy for mine -- so I sent him a hermit crab, a milkshake, a stuffed penguin, and other important items, though I have made no progress in Club Penguin so far this weekend, even though Captain Rockhopper is visiting.
After lunch, while Daniel was still downtown, we decided to take Adam hiking at Great Falls -- the Virginia side this time, for variety. We walked to Matildaville and along the river trail for a bit. The water was pretty high and quite green; there were kayakers and a pair of herons in flight that we could see paralleling the Maryland bank. We had chicken satay for dinner and watched two episodes of Xena from the Eli arc (a.k.a. "What if stories about Jesus had focused on women?"), both of which were awesome. By then Daniel was home, ravenously hungry despite having eaten an entire funnel cake by himself after lunch...he will often ask for Xena if there's nothing else on, which delights me. So it wasn't a very eventful Saturday but it was a pretty good one!
There were several in the river, though the water was only a few degrees above freezing, according to the park rangers.
From the Virginia side, it's easier to get a sense of just how jagged the Potomac River gorge is.
The water is quite smooth around the rocks just downriver from the thundering falls, which can be heard all over the park.
Great blue herons can often be seen fishing, preening, or flying in and above the river.
Tourists who come to see the falls often watch transfixed as the kayakers plunge down them.
This one had flipped completely upside-down before righting himself.