Hometown Haiku

The gravestone of Jim the Wonder Dog.

My town’s motto states:
“Smart dog, nice folks ….” Pretty sure
the dog, too, was nice.


 

The most famous resident of my hometown was a dog

When I moved to the central Missouri town of Marshall in the late 1950s, I was six years old.  My father had literally sold the farm and was setting out on a bold attempt to pursue the American dream by going into the farm implement business. After spending the first six years of my life on a farm in northwest part of the state, Marshall, with its 12,000-plus inhabitants, seemed like a big city to me, full of potential and possibilities. For the first time in my life I had a room of my own and indoor plumbing.

One of the first things I heard about my new hometown was that it was that it had been the home of Jim the Wonder Dog.  It had been just a little over 20 years since Jim’s death, and many of my new neighbors had seen Jim while he was alive.  Someone gave us a book about Jim, which I eagerly devoured.  We were told to be sure and visit Jim’s grave out at the end of Yerby Street at Ridge Park Cemetery.  He was the only animal buried in the human graveyard, we were told, and he deserved to be there more than a lot of the people, one added.  We visited Jim’s grave with my mother, who brought flowers, because that’s what you did when you visited cemeteries in those days.

Everyone we talked to accepted the story of Jim at face value.  To them, Jim had been a true walking miracle.  He was a dog who could understand human speech, and follow instructions to the letter.  But more than that, he knew things that humans could not possibly know.  He was not only highly intelligent.  Jim was also clairvoyant, we were told.  Jim could predict the future.  He could accurately predict the gender of babies before they were born and he knew who would win elections and sporting events.

To a six-year-old boy with an active imagination, this was a fascinating story.  But I grew up and forgot about Jim.  I went away to college, and started a career and a family, and got involved with my life.

Years later, I returned to Marshall, and I discovered that Jim was enjoying a revival of popularity.  The Viking Hotel (formerly the Ruff Hotel) just off the town square, where Jim and his owner had lived, had burned down.  A civic group had raised some money, and convinced the city fathers allow a memorial park to be created on the site.

Jim was becoming a full-fledged tourist attraction.

Then someone (bless their hearts!), persuaded the city to adopt a town motto.  It reads, and I kid you not: “Smart dog, nice folks ….”

I admire the humility and sense of humor that animated that motto.  It is in the same spirit that I wrote this little haiku.

Spring Poem

Phili; Larkin wrote a beautiful spring poem, "The Trees."

As spring comes into its full, glorious own here in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered a wonderful spring poem I had never read before.

Mary Karr posted a short poem by Philip Larkin last week on her Facebook page. In one of those interesting coincidences, I had just been encouraged to look into Larkin by my literary friend and colleague, Mark Neigh.

(You know how you discover a new word one day, and then you see it and hear it all around you the next?  It was sort of like I was surrounded by Larkin all of a sudden.)

I already had Larkin’s “Collected Poems” on my bookshelf, but hadn’t read much in it. I’d never been much impressed by what little I had read of Larkin, but his spring poem really hit home. I must never have given him a proper chance. Or the timing wasn’t right.

Here it is, just 12 short, beautiful lines:


 

The Trees
by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.


 

You can listen to Larkin read this poem here.  (It just sounds better when he reads it.)  This small gem gives me hope that I’ll find other poems that speak to me in Larkin’s work.