How Strangely The Mind Works


How Strangely The Mind Works

She sometimes sounds, mornings,
like someone on quaaludes–
and my mind comes up with a neighbor once upstairs–
how they made him
lurch bang crash–
only Pearl’s falls–she’s my dog–
are more chthonic and never draw blood.

It’s her rump, see,
and the hind leg that won’t
support when the other scratches.

I feel sorry for her, sure,
but I keep thinking lately of Drew–that
was that guy’s name–years ago,
and how he would smear
his face along the stairwell pinballing up–

Pearl–she’d be 126, if human, while
he was young–and she’s a short dog, close
to the ground, so, although the falls are surely
not much fun–well, she’s not doing them for fun–
whereas this guy
had pretty good teeth, until, you know,
the self-hatred came along,
determined to take care of that smile,
one way or another.

It was the early 80‘s, NYC,
when AIDS hit harder
than any banging lurch,
and I wonder, now,
if there was something more
I could have done, remembering
the styled cherubic curl of his blond bangs,
and I always did say hi,
and he did too, sweetly,
and I never complained to the super
(though I know I kvetched to my boyfriend)
not even when he fell onto his stereo,
swerving the knob to deafening
while passing out–
not even when the firemen charged past
and water dripped down all day, actual jets
through my ceiling lightbulbs,
which was when, I think, he moved.

Sometimes I scratch Pearl myself,
holding her steady with my legs as I reach
around for the spot,
but it’s not so easy to get it right
when it’s someone else’s itch.

And I’m not making any comparisons here–
between the feelings of sorrow roused
for a much-loved very old dog
and a barely-known young man,
only thinking that life gives so many
opportunities for kindness that we just
don’t see, though when I think of that time now,
my eyes hurt, front and back,
flashing at their edges that rough-faced building’s door
in a neon night, you know how lights blur
in a photo, and I hope to God
that I said hi
with something more
than passing friendliness.



Here’s a draft poem/sketch for With Real Toads and dVerse Poets Pub Open Link NIghts. I’m not quite sure how I might shape it differently but here it is for now. (For those wondering about the dog –she is 18–doesn’t seem to be pain as a normal mode, but is, well, 18, and increasingly cannot support herself standing when she scratches. )

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49 Comments on “How Strangely The Mind Works”

  1. Mary Says:

    Karin, I think this is my favorite poem of yours. I do see the comparisons between the young man and your old dog. And yes, if we can offer kindness to either ‘man or beast,’ it is the least that we can do. I picture you helping your dog itch what itches……touched me greatly really, as did your whole wonderful poem.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Mary. Poor little Pearl is right at my feet right now. We have a bed for her, but she is lying down on my hat which I dropped on the floor. You know how dogs like to that! Take care, k.

  2. brian miller Says:

    while you may not be making comparisons, it works really well… how he would smear
    his face along the stairwell pinballing up–great description as i can just see him…and you get us to feeling both for him and your pearl…and how true as well on the opportunities for kindness we are given…very nice k

  3. I adore this poem for so many reasons, the beloved old dog, the trying to help her with her itches, the young man, the shared hello’s and smiles – true kindness – and the way your eyes hurt, remembering and wondering if one could have done more. I totally get that feeling, so often. I can often be heard to mutter, about myself, stupid, Stupid, STUPID!” when I recall my many instances of Falling Short. Sigh. I’ll bet your hello’s brightened his day and made him less lonely – and were a gift.

    Now I will be thinking of your dog. Mine passed two and a half years ago, and I still cry for missing him. Sigh.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sherry. I do not think you often fall short. So sorry about the loss of your dog. Pearl is so old– it is amazing to look at old pictures and to see her around when even my children are very small, now both taller than me. K.

  4. vbholmes Says:

    Wonderful juxtaposition of stories and feelings. Reminder also, of the flashbacks we have at 3 AM, of people, slightly known, whom we passed over when, perhaps, we could have helped.

  5. I call those ripples and webs…what we share with each other…even when we are not aware. Wonderful piece of writing.

  6. hedgewitch Says:

    A fine subtle weaving of the lines of compassion and humanity, always seemingly obstructed by the rough obstacles of daily life that take away all our smoothness and leave us so little for others besides regret at our own limitations. The dog such a metaphor for so many things–selfless love whether ever returned or not, vulnerability we all share, and comfort given simply by supplying us with something to nurture and love wholeheartedly. A wonderful, nuanced, and serious bit of writing, k–one of your best, imo. (And hugs to Pearl.)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks much. As I always say, I am not a poet by nature, so maybe getting back to more prosey things is useful, just not worrying about length etc so much, and trying simply to be readable. I mean, of course, there’s probably way more re-writing than anyone on the outside would imagine, simply because my brain doesn’t work in a very linear fashion these days and it takes me a long time to get to the meat of anything, but these longer things are still something I feel more at home in.

  7. Miss Manic, what an incredibly sad story. I fear that he was alone. I can’t even imagine that. I visited the Childrens Museum in Indianapolis last week and saw the exhbit on Ryan White, the first child diagnosed with AIDS. Thye have his entire bedroom there, and his school locker….. I was so appauled to see the mean spirited, truly hateful things the other kids had scratched into his locker…. OMG, it washed over me like a tidal wave…. I guess AIDS was still too new and misunderstood in the 80’s. You have such an inane way of finding the truly sad things within us, k…. Which is so starkly striking to me, given your perpetual sense of happiness and optimism…. Another great story and poem fellow poet……

  8. inate…. inate….. not inane….. please forgive my misspelling! 😦

  9. Oh, Karin, this tore me apart on two levels. First, I’m a dog lover. I don’t need to say more, there. And next, AIDS. In the mid 80’s I was the nurse manager in SF of one of the first (if not the first) dedicated AIDS unit in the City. Later, when I was completing my MA, I did home care nursing and was assigned to the IV team in the Castro. I’d dealt with death and dying most of my career but to experience it in the young, and seeming most talented segment of our population was so hard. We knew so little about it then…suited up like we were astronauts (at first). The way you’ve paralleled these two heartbreaks is masterful.

  10. Steve King Says:

    A very artful weaving of your avenues for compassion. For years now, we’ve adopted older dogs and seen just the kind of things you describe in your Pearl. The aids epidemic of the early 80s seems otherworldly now–not just because of the newness of it and the way so many of the victims were denigrated. Nowadays, folks live with aids, if not easily, then at least productively and for a long time. The chronic nature of the illness seems to make it almost an accepted fact of life.

    This is very interesting, not just in the picture you paint, but in bringing home the many opportunities for kindness that many of us blew (and continue to blow). I’ll be anxious to see how this one evolves out of your draft stage.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Steve. I call things drafts when they are new and when I am still changing them as I post. I don’t think I’ll work on this for a while now, but maybe sometime in the future. I think the AIDS epidemic may also seem otherworldly because so many people died. They don’t now, but of course, they did. OF course, it is so different now. Quite amazing that they have made so much progress – not perfect and maybe not so available in the third worlds, still quite astounding. k.

  11. Glenn Buttkus Says:

    A very touching illustration of how as we deal with one task, often this flashes us back into the dark corners of our cortex, and the past, or a chapter in a book we read, or a scene from a movie we’ve seen, or memories of a road trip, rise to the surface and bubble up to join the fun. Liked this one a lot.

  12. I think life is like that sometimes. We feel something for one soul and end up remembering another one– such a touching piece–and so much of your soul in these pages

  13. What a wonderful read– a story you told– at first I thought it a bit disconnected, but then you brought everything together so beautifully– this piece really speaks to me. THanks for sharing ~Jason

  14. claudia Says:

    oh wow k. – that was a very personal and very moving write and moving story as well… so many possibilites to show kindess and sometimes we’re to busy or thoughtless (at least i am)…ugh… that was a good reminder to have open eyes for those struggling

  15. There are many feelings (and deep feelings at that!) running through this poem. I loved it. I agree with the first poster. It’s one of my favourites, too.

    Greetings from London.

  16. Marya Says:

    “but it’s not so easy to get it right
    when it’s someone else’s itch”

    Ain’t that so true! Such a poignant poem — I do remember those days all too well, and all the loss…

  17. such different emotions weaved effortlessly… a moving write… grand task to blend the art of story-telling and poetry so fine.. great job

  18. I love how you weaved the stories together – differences and similariites becoming apperant… really quite existenstial… I got a feeling of Camus in the story..

  19. ayala Says:

    Kindness, compassion and wonderful storytelling. And I’m not making any comparisons here–
    between the feelings of sorrow roused
    for a much-loved very old dog
    and a barely-known young man,
    only thinking that life gives so many
    opportunities for kindness …beautiful!

  20. First time here Karin and love this – especially the last stanza – terrific… I also agree an element of existensialism here, but with real compassion too… With Best Wishes Scott

  21. That is one of the most emotionally evoking poems I’ve ever read..the emotion of regret can be the hardest…lovely words my friend….

  22. naramalone Says:

    I like how you used the contrast between your two subjects. It’s easier to approach the suffering and failing body of the young man when you switch off to the needs of an aging pet. I don’t know why. Maybe because one is familiar ground to all of us and the other is ground none of us wants to be too familiar with.

  23. K, this broke me because my cousin died of AIDS and he had 4 dogs, the entire poem was emotionally unabridged and, I believe it can touch each reader in one sphere or another ~ Hurry get your book published!

  24. kelvin s.m. Says:

    18? — that’s an adorable thing for me as i rarely thought a dog could reach that long… now, i wonder if she really likes it to be that old & rockin’ & itchin’…. somehow, i would say she’s lucky to be with someone who’s not only having a good hand but also a good heart… loved this… smiles…

  25. Wyeth Bailey Says:

    Very sad. Very vivid images and feelings. We must be about the same age. When I was 16, I was friends with a boy whose father was on the CDC team before AIDS was called AIDS. We’d use fake IDs to sneak out at night, frequenting gay bars. His father knew it, and as an adult, it’s hard to imagine the fear he felt when the puzzle hung unsolved, a noose. We’re not friends anymore, but he’s alive and well. Those were hard times. You paint a compelling portrait of that moment in time, tethering you forward to today. I like your draft as is 🙂 Well done.

  26. grapeling Says:

    K, I admire the honesty in this clear and well-penned verse.

  27. Ella Says:

    This is so vivid and sad! I could feel so many images come to mind, as I read your words~ I love how you compared the two and the feelings so intimately portrayed~ This was so touching

  28. apshilling Says:


    great duel threads knitting the whole in example as I read.
    very well conceived and executed as I would imagine it. crisp
    smart and developing with MAX interest as sold handholds
    support your idea:

    and how he would smear
    his face along the stairwell pinballing up

    loved the flow throughout but particularly in this section.

    a quality capture of time space and the feelings we encounter
    looking back.

  29. margaret Says:

    We often love our dogs like they are humans… and humans as if they were dogs. This is a lovely, pondering, questioning, retrospective poem … ha – how’s that for a description? Two moments in time brought to life and tied together. Lovely “first draft” as you say and I don’t think it will need much tweaking.

  30. Lindy Lee Says:

    Worry is a rotten feeling to deal with, is it not?

  31. Wow! This is incredible on so many levels. I thought the highlight for me was going to look up the new word I learned today (you know the one) but the pathos in this is brilliant. Take a bow.

  32. Myrna Says:

    It’s the honesty and simplicity with which you write that brought tears to my eyes. And the fact that I too, like many of us, wonder if i’ve lost so many opportunities to be kind. This is a wonderful poem. So open and touching because I can relate to ti so well.

  33. Pamela Says:

    Karin, I like how you wrote these two stories within each other. It plays out well. I am so sorry to hear about Pearl. It is one of the things we must deal with when being a pet owner. All is well here, except I am dead tired with my new job at a bilingual school with 36 six graders. I hope all is well with you.


    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Wow! I expect that 36 sixth graders could require a very large energy output. I am quite tired out by my job at the moment too, but it really does not sound nearly so taxing! Take care, Pamela. k.

      • Pamela Says:

        Well, the group is split in two. Not that it really helps that much, because by the end of the day you have dealt with all 36. lol. Thanks.

  34. I don’t have pets K but I can see the warmth and compassion in the words ~ Really enjoyed the sights & sounds specially the scratching of the itch ~

  35. ds Says:

    How difficult those days were, to live, and to remember. I like the parallel you draw with Pearl and the boy’s face smearing along the wall (ouch! powerful). We can never know if we’ve been kind enough. Or what might be enough.
    Thank you for this.

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