“How to Be a Dog” by Andrew Kane

Andrew Kane


If you want to be a dog, first you must learn to wait. You must wait
all day until somebody returns, and if somebody returns late, you
must learn to wait until then. Then you must learn to speak in one
of the voices available to you, high and light or mellow thick and
low or middle-range and terse. Whichever voice you learn to speak,
you will meet somebody who does not like you because of it, they
will be wary or annoyed or you will remind them of something or
someone else. Once you have learned to speak you must learn not to
speak unless you absolutely must, or to speak as much as you feel
you must regardless of how many times you are told to stop, or sit,
or placed behind a door—this will depend on what kind of a dog you
want to be. And indeed there are many kinds. It may not feel as though
you get to choose, and that too is a kind of dog. Next you must learn
to relinquish all control over everything you might wish to control. You
must learn to prefer to be led about by the neck on a piece of string,
or staked to a neglected lawn by a length of chain. You must learn, once
you have sampled the freedom of a life without a chain, that it is better
to return and be chained again. Or you may learn that it is not—
a fugitive is also a kind of dog. Of course you must learn to love, to
love always and love entirely and to be wounded by nothing so much
as the violence of your own love. You must learn to be confused but
never disappointed by a deficiency of love. You must give up your
children and not know why. You must lose yourself wholly in activity;
you must never feel an itch that you do not scratch. You must learn how
to wait at the foot of the bed and hope, silently, that somebody is drunk
enough or lonely enough to invite you up, and you must learn not to show
your excitement too much or overplay your hand. If you want to be a dog,
you must learn to believe that you are not in fact a dog at all.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020


Andrew Kane: “I spent much of 2019 listening to The Roches, especially their eponymous 1979 debut, which includes the song ‘Damned Old Dog.’ This poem is my response to that song’s central refrain, ‘Do I want to be a dog?’ and an exploration of what it would mean to both be a dog and to be a person who takes on the mantle of a dog’s life, which is to say, to be a person actively palpating the vastness and the limitations of their own empathy. (There is, too, a healthy dose of Thomas Nagel’s ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?’ which was collected, also in 1979, in his book, Mortal Questions.) Above all, though, this is in fact a poem about dogs.” (web)

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