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by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & Dog Years


by Mark Doty & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & og Years is one of the most beautiful and insightful books I have ever read. And one of the saddest.





If you feel sure that dogs don't have any emotions -- if you wonder why someone whose dog just died doesn't simply go out and get another one -- then take a pass on Mark Doty's memoir. You'd probably feel like fleeing anyway from the prospect of reading a narrative like his: After years of grief, just as a man starts to get over the death of his partner, 9/11 happens. And then his dog dies. And then his other dog dies. It's a real canine weepie.





In fact, just in the first 35 pages, I cried three times. And I still had 180 pages to go.





Maybe that makes me an over-emotional putz, I don't know. I'd prefer to think that it makes me, with the help of Doty's crystalline prose, a bit more compassionate, a bit more human, a bit more in need of a wet sniffy canine nose nuzzling my ear.





They lick our faces because they don't know how to say what's in their hearts. But the speechlessness of dogs, Doty reminds us, reflects what we once were ourselves: babies without language, accepting and non-judgmental, living fully and forever in the present. Everything, in other words, that draws us to our dogs.





Yet growing sentimental over them, says Doty, is just a form of displaced anger: People angry at death try to paper over their emotions with cute widdle puppies on fluffy pink sweaters. Our sadness over our companions' deaths, however, can't be generalized. Making a doggy commitment means embracing the sadness, one death at a time -- along with all their funny puppy tricks.





Doty, a poet who's skilled at description, provides many accounts of walking with his Arden through Greenwich Village, of ambling along a Provincetown beach with Beau splashing in the surf. His stories revel in the present, in the colors and aromas of strolls in the woods. They make me want to return home, before the opportunity's lost, and go for a walk with my dogs.

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