Maxine Kumin, “Virgil”


He came, a dog ausipiciously named Virgil,
homeless, of unknown breed but clearly hound
barking at scents, aroused by hot ones to bugle.
His first week here he brought three squirrels to ground
and lined their mangled corpses up on the grass
to be—why not?—admired before burial.
He gobbled the snottiest tissues from the trash.
Also, he swiped our lunches off the table.
He knew not sit or stay, has still to take in
that chasing sheep and horses is forbidden.
When reprimanded, he grovels, penitent.
He longs for love with all his poet’s soul.
     His eyebrows make him look intelligent.
     We save our choicest food scraps for his bowl.

Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 also includes “Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year” (from the Norton Poetry Out Loud website), “The Word” (orginally published in The Atlantic, republished online with other poems from her early career), ” and “The Nuns of Childhood: Two Views” (The Atlantic). It doesn’t have “How It Is” (Poetry Foundation website), but that’s still a good poem.

Two years ago, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Kumin (while advising her interlocutor to ignore Virgil’s antics) describes her arrival at “a point in life where it would be easy to let down my guard and write simple imagistic poems,” adding: “But I don’t want to write poems that aren’t necessary. I want to write poems that matter, that have an interesting point of view… Twenty years ago, I thought Denise Levertov was wrong to write political poems, that she would lose her lyrical impulse. But I’ve changed my mind; I didn’t write my poems because I wanted to, they were wrung from me. I had to write them.”

25 June 2010 | poetry |