Love for a wordless creature, once it takes hold, is an enchantment, and the enchanted speak, famously, in private mutterings, cryptic riddles, or gibberish. This is why I shouldn't be writing anything to do with the two dogs who have been such presences for sixteen years of my life. How on earth could I stand at the requisite distance to say anything that might matter?
Last month five thousand people died here in New York; the ruins of the towers in whichwith whichthey fell smolder still. [I wrote these words in October of 2001; the dead had not yet been properly counted; it was impossible to find the bodies, and the lists of the missing were unclear.] When the wind is right, Chelsea fills with the smell of burning plastic, as if somewhere down in the rubble thousands and thousands of computers were slowly, poisonously burning, along with fluorescent tubes and industrial carpeting and the atomized pieces of corporate art that lined the reception room walls. My friends in other cities speak about the new war, the roots of this atrocity and its relationship to other atrocities around the globe; they worry over the notion of "evil," whether it's a reality or a concept with no use in the public sphere. I understand that such things matter, but for me they're nothing but air.
I can't stop seeing the whitened boots of the rescue workers trudging back uptown, or sitting beside me on the subway benches. Their battered leather and shoelaces, cuffs and ankles are covered with a thick powder composed of atomized concrete: the pulverized stuff of two hundred floors of officesdesk chairs, files, coffee cupscommingled with the stuff of human bodies reduced to creamy ash. The rubble trucks rumble up Eighth Avenue, uncovered. The white grit blows out in troubled eddies, and snow gusts and coats our faces and hair. Somewhere in that dust are the atoms of Graham, a man I knew a little, and saw last at the end of summer, when he was laughing on the street, his tattooed arms flashing in the sun.
The foregoing is excerpted from Dog Years by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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