David Baker is an American poet and professor of English born in 1954. His poetry books have titles like Never-Ending birds, Changeable Thunder, or The truth about small towns. I liked this poem at first sight.
The subtle rhyme and rhythm of the first verse, until “I suppose he is”, is a fine poetic craftwork. Both – chokes, Yabs – dab, shrubs – budging, yelping – help.
The dog is store-bought, we associate a certain type of people with that. We would befriend our own dogs in animal shelters. The chain (not a leash) is too short. What happens next in the poem is strange. The I lies in the sun (we assume it is a late afternoon). Why does the I say he is dying? Is the sight of the choking dog unbearable? Or is it the pup that says “I’m surely dying”, the line set italics to indicate that? The I and the dog are conflated in these lines. The author asks for help because he identifies with the suffering dog.
But in the second verse it is the cruel neighbor’s life that is ticking away like my own (my emphasis). The I also identifies himself with the cruel neighbor. This leads to inaction: I’ll stay right here in the cool shade. The crying of the dog is now perceived as the expression of the sadness of both the author and his neighbor. The explanation that follows is straightforward: both men are single and lack physical intimacy. Their chains are mental.
The last lines sound classical and remind me of Emily Dickinson. The yelping little pup reminds us of our own mortality and the poet is telling us implicitly, I believe, that we should not sit idly by when we see another being in pain, as death “comes quickly enough on their own, sweet time”.
Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908-1981) studied engineering and mathematics before he became a poet, and they appear to call him the “engineer poet”. Here is a collection of his poetry in Italian. I found this impressionist poem about a street, in the translation of W.S. di Piero, and I quote:
Years of pounding have nearly
Caved it in, and it’s hard to believe
The street’s gotten narrower.
This is my hour, my favorite hour.
I remember one night all noise died
In the fading light, a voice
Cried my name as if in a dream
The street bends, the day
Drips from the rooftops,
The sweet hour sings in me.
The light is only a stubborn
Ghost, a glow: a fish
Gleams in the glass bottle.
The pounding is ‘calpestio’ in the original, perhaps trampling would have been a better translation. The quiet old street has become a busy thoroughfare. Narrower, probably because all the streets from your childhood are grand and wide. But there is no nostalgia here, this is the favorite hour: The poet is aware that he feels so good because of the memories that he didn’t have back then. He remembers a silent night in which a voice cried (un grido disse: a cry said) my name as in a dream. I see an older poet smiling happily in the fading light, hardly registering the voice who is shouting his name.
Because he is painting in his head the image of the street. Look at these days that drip from the rooftops as the street bends. Dalí! The light is glowing, a shiny glimmer like a fish in a glass bottle. This imagery in Italian:
Non è che una larva restìa La luce, un barlume: entro la boccia Di vetro un pesce s’illumina.
The fish is lighting up itself, so we’re thinking of inner light and enlightenment. And even that light is only a stubborn ghost, overrated when the sweet hour sings. The light is a superficial glowing, what is essential is perhaps the voice that cries our name?