I was very sorry to learn of the death of Chloe, seen here in 2007 lying on my porch while her master Mike, a contractor who’s married to an aunt of mine, did some work on the living room. Chloe was a good-natured dog, not to mention highly photogenic: this is one of my favorite photos of the porch. I used it in the header of the original Morning Porch blog for more than a year, back when it was still on Tumblr. Even though neither the dog nor that chair typically resided on my front porch, they really helped convey the Appalachian setting.
Last December, the dead elm tree next to the French lilac lost its top in a high wind, and the old concrete dog statue that had stood at point at the edge of the yard for, I’m guessing, at least 60 years was smashed. But when I finally got around to cleaning up the mess a couple of weeks ago, after the last snow melted, I noticed something peculiar: what had been a semi-cheesy, mass-produced piece of garden statuary now resembled a modernist sculpture, which might be called something like Spirit of Dog. It stands on two rusted steel bars, the remnants of the statue’s front legs, still lodged in the mostly buried concrete base.
I could try removing the remnants of white paint for a cleaner look, but then I’d have to keep after the bird shit as well. The next thing you know I’d be pruning the lilac (also badly damaged this winter by a cottontail rabbit, which has girdled several of the largest trunks) and mowing the lawn, and the entire, wild character of the yard would be degraded just to showcase a readymade sculpture. No thanks. I think it’s incumbent on me and anyone who visits to see the impact of time and weather as itself a kind of pruning or whetting. Aging doesn’t diminish, it revises — it makes new. For me, this new/old sculpture might serve as a guide and inspiration for my erasure poetry.
Until recently, I had this quote (which I removed only because it wasn’t clear who actually said it) in the Morning Porch header: “There is another life, but it is in this one.” In a certain, quite literal (concrete!) sense, there was always a sculpture in that dog statue, waiting to get out. Seeing the dead and broken as still in some sense whole, but simply shifted to a new state of being — well, that’s about as mystical as I get these days. For those in mourning for a real dog, I expect it’s completely beside the point, as most afterlife speculation tends to be. Chloe will be missed, and that absence cannot be filled. It’s not even vaguely comparable to the slight disquiet I still feel over the loss of a statue. The “life” of a work of art is complex and interesting in its own way, but it pales beside the wonder — the miracle, really — of a living animal.