Thursday, January 5, 2012. Reading: Philip Levine, “Ask for Nothing.” Not having been a literature major, I had to look up Philip Levine. Was a little embarrassed to learn that he is the 2011-2012 U.S. Poet Laureate and I’d never even heard of him. Poetry really deserves more respect in this country! Selection of the next poet laureate should have been front-page news; I’d much rather hear about a good poet than about any of the Republican candidates for President! In “Ask for Nothing,” the narrator of the poem addresses the reader, as if we are walking together and he is pointing out things I might not have noticed on my own. I don’t need to ask for anything, he seems to say, because in the moonlight there is only one road and it leads everywhere. I wonder about the choice of the last word. If the road led anywhere, instead of everywhere, would I have greater control over my ultimate destination?
Today’s walk was about two miles through a neighborhood on a bluff above the Chesapeake Bay. A friend who lives there invited me – although not gated, the neighborhood is open only to residents and their guests. Forty years ago, it was one of several enclaves of vacation homes on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The houses are either ranchers or rambling seaside cottages. Some two-story colonials with vinyl siding appeared there, interlopers, in the last decade or two; but the neighborhood still has a vacation-home feel. Today the air was warmer, and the wind finally died down. Only a tiny bit of last night’s snow remained after sunup – a light frosting on the northern sides of trees, grayish rime in the dark cracks of the asphalt. We took our dogs along this morning. Pippi, a Jack Russell terrier, kept jumping up at something in the air invisible to the human eye. She dug her toes into the earth, rocked back on her haunches, and paused the parade to investigate every interesting smell along the way. Skye, a somewhat overweight miniature schnauzer, trotted along amiably with her tail up. She pulled against her harness when she wanted to join Pippi’s sniff-fest, or when she needed a bathroom break. If I could write poetry, I would find meaning in and write about the unique, wintry blue of the Bay below us and the crunchy tan weeds between the dormant lawns. I would write about the way that a golden harrier eyed us (or perhaps our tasty little dogs) from a telephone wire fifteen feet overhead, and then sailed away into the woods in search of easier prey. If our dogs could write poetry about today’s walk, I think they would have different things to say altogether.