Under the dog star, weary, wilted,
watching dark’s descent compress
all things to a lonesome distant barking
and a jittery sleeplessness—

I try TV for company
knowing I won’t find it there
but needing noise and light
against the stupifying humid air—

ah, perfect! Verdi’s Requiem
enters the room: air-stabbing bows
of violins, the maestro’s frantic waves
and all the choral mouths agape with O’s—

it is the final movement, the Libera Me:
“Deliver me from everlasting death…”
it screams, wails, rushes to a supreme hush
of sorrow’s softening under the breath—

and in the silence afterward, deliverance
from dark, and grief. ย Hair of the dog, what
power this sad music has, to liberate
when other helps are absent and the need is great.



Originally posted August 2014

44 responses »

  1. Oh Cynthia, this one touched me deeply. It is great poetry and it brought a tear to my eye. I hope that you didn’t weep as you wrote but, perhaps, the beauty did make you cry? What sadness and what a gift you have! I’m glad that at least beautiful classic music helps.

    • The “Dog Star” is a common name for the star Sirius, prominent in the constellation Canis Major (Great Dog).
      Here in the northern hemisphere the sultriest days of summer–usually late July and August–are referred to as “dog days” because, at one time, these were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun. It’s usually a period of least rainfall and oppressive humid heat.
      “Hair of the dog” is a colloquial expression usually referring to alcohol consumed with the aim of lessening the effects of a hangover…..the homeopathic “like cures like” idea. I’ve heard it originally referred to the curative practice of placing a hair of a rabid dog in the wound caused by its bite.
      The distant barking is just atmosphere here. For me the month of August brings the anniversary of a great and painful loss. Last week, on a night of oppressive heat and depressed spirit, I stumbled onto a TV broadcast of Verdi’s Requiem by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and marveled once again at the cathartic effect of sad music to alleviate sadness. So I wrote this poem. Thank you for reading it.

  2. Simply beautiful Cynthia. There can be so much solace in music. It is definitely much more than therapeutic. This poem is music in itself to me. I hope the feeling it gave to you lasted. And you know it’s there so perhaps it is a little bit like a security blanket.

    On a lighter note but on the same subject of music I can remember times in my teens when romances came and went, particularly when they went, I would play the saddest music I could find to help me to cry it all out. ๐Ÿ˜Š (over and over again as teens do!)

  3. You feel deeply and it shows in your incredible writing. Deep emotions find their way bubbling to the top, restless as the night is somehow the music is the crescendo of what seems a long night. Beautiful Cynthia.

    • Beyond the personal, my thoughts just now hover around the life and death of Robin Williams…..
      depression and humor, darkness and light and what philosophers and psychologists have called
      sublimation….certainly poetry, music, and painting (as you know) have a kind of sustenance about them very much worth cherishing. Thank you for your kind words, Mary.

  4. Cynthia, this is so beautifully written. There is much emotion, melancholy, and then Verdi. Every word is well placed, and I enjoyed the alliteration in some lines, and the rhyme. I think you’re a master-poet, and listening to you read your poetry is a treat!

  5. Oh yes, what power music has, music is like water to the soul, at least it is to mine! ๐Ÿ™‚ TV doesn’t quite give the same company, unless there’s an awesome film on that I’ve never seen before, but that never happens when I’m having a sleepless night and need something to entertain. Your poem explains the scene of a sleepless night perfectly, I have these kind of nights too, even from a young age, sleep was rarely undisturbed! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You’re so right about TV..it can be like an annoying ache, especially if you find yourself–as I sometimes do–visiting in homes where the boob-tube is never turned off. I’m not much of a movie buff, but certain broadcasts — concerts, serious drama, opera, even a few BBC sitcoms–that never occur in rural backwaters (like where I now live!) make me happy to have that technology. What a lovely way you phrase it…..music like water….and to be without it is a terrible thirst…Thanks, Suzy.

  6. Hello Cynthia, I’m sorry to be the last one to comment…this poem brings me to many thoughts, personal thoughts that are far reaching and complex, and then also to the way art in all its many forms conveys human emotion. I think of how difficult it is to convey joy, for example, in a painting or in a poem. How expression can get sentimental or clichรฉ or just too much. This poem has a sense of humour to it…maybe? The, “ah, perfect!” as though the requiem is just what you needed to lift you out of sleeplessness and sorrow…that touch of laughter at the self, or a kind of full acceptance of the situation, the mood, perhaps…? And then the unexpected deliverance…the silence after, the new silence…anyway, this is beautiful poem. A reminder to oneself of the way music lifts the “soul/mind/spirit”, whatever. Here is a little secret…I often find music too intense…so intense that I have to turn it off, my body responds as though it was one of the instruments itself! And I often struggle with emotions (knowing them on my own), so music can often feel placed over me rather than a movement from within … a manipulation. I often feel like one of those strict Lutherans, an iconoclast, who thought all forms of art should be removed from places of worship because of their ability to manipulate the senses…but I go on…what a poem!

    • How sweet that you catch humor in the entry of Requiem…sounds like something John Stevens would see there too, and may be quite right.
      I share your sense of music’s being sometimes too intense; for me it’s about “music” that jars, like rap or something I hear as alien to my own spirit. Music is never a “background” to me. I used to complain if someone insisted on “dinner music”…..not being able to eat and sing and dance at the same time. And don’t even get me started on the pain of having to hear some of the phone stuff they force on you when you are on bureaucratic “hold”……Thank you, Anna, for a very enjoyable comment!

  7. I am sure this kind of poems need high thinking. At times only a poet can say what his/her poem exactly mean, but surely the readers have the liberty to draw their own conclusions.

    • You’re absolutely right, Ramu. I continue to marvel at the different “meanings” that readers find in my poems, when I didn’t intend them at all. That’s the beauty, mystery, and sometimes frustration of language for communication. Thank you for being such a loyal reader and commenter! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Thank you Cynthia. I can not imagine a life without music.

    And when you invoked Verdi’s requiem, I immediately thought of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, one of my favorite films. It’s about the kind of pain you are talking about.

    • Oh, Prospero…we have had such fun with our doppelgรคnger talk, but I do think “kindred spirit” captures it better. Thank you for the consolation of your comment, and this video.(including not only the opening strains of the Requiem, but also that distant barking dog…!) You understand, and that’s worth everything.

  9. When I read the poem, I read the “ah, perfect! Verdiโ€™s Requiem enters the room:” straight.

    But when I heard you read it, it sounded on the cusp between pleasure and sardonic reflection. Well, that’s how I heard it, and maybe I would hear it differently a second time. Still it shows that emphasis and tone can change the meaning so much.

    It’s a sad poem – an intelligent person who is rescued only by music.

    • …..”only” by music, in this brief instance, but rescued nonetheless.

      I find your comment about reading the poem “straight” a bit perplexing…even silent reading has sound/voice in my experience…and then if there’s a reading aloud–by the author, or any random other voice, of course there is a myriad of possibilities. It’s fun for me to think about these things, so I thank you for bringing it up. Adding audio to my site has taught me a great deal about readers and about the kind of poetry that works and does not work well with it. A lot of poetry written today is more about the image and abstract truisms, with little attention to sound and meter, except, of course, the loose, declarmatory pieces meant to be performed.

      Thank you again, for stopping by, and for your comment. I’ll be over to return the favor soon!

        • Well, irony is an abstraction, a purposeful, rhetorical device, not a spontaneous tone of voice. The only “straight” tone of voice I can think of is a monotone…maybe like those computer generated. Culture and geography might lead one to expect a standard believed to be straight or otherwise. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s good to remember the “meaning” is as much a creation of the listener as of the speaker.

  10. This was a very touching poem, and all the better for the attention to sound and meter. I also enjoyed your explanation of ‘hair of the dog’, a phrase I’ve only ever heard used by hard drinkers, but which you use for poignant effect.

    • That “hair of the dog” business…I too had only heard it from serious drinkers. Maybe it was the dogs on my mind, in the stars, and in the neighborhood that brought the phrase initially and spontaneously into the poem (as you are well aware, the writing process can be rife with mysteries) but before rejecting the phrase, I researched it a bit, and discovered its appropriateness…(who’s in charge here?)…so it was “one more dog image, coming up!” Thanks for your very kind comment.

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