Reading: Sunbathing by David Baker

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”.

Reading: Sunbathing by David Baker was originally published on Meandering home