Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT June 17th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

In today’s session, we read, heard, discussed and wrote in the shadow of “Passion,” a poem by Native American author Louise Erdrich. A mix of returning and new participants from the States and abroad noted the varying shades of devotion in the poem, enacted through destruction to bring about connection. “Devotion” also conjured up associations with religious attachment, and devotionals. We began with the question of what kind of dog we each imagined in the poem, which turned out to be quite varied: one person saw a compassionate animal, and another thought of a gentle personality that stayed with the bereaved lover like a service animal. A third participant drew on the poet’s Native American heritage and its connections to spirituality, leading him to conjure a sin-eater or grief-eater. A fourth realized that she had not visualized the dog at all but more had imagined its large presence for its human companion. The excruciating pain of the human was considered: More than one person identified personally with the human’s situation of losing a lover and wanting to divest completely from that past. And we also thought about how the dog might be absorbing this grief, being so devoted that it is willing to take on this burden. Emotion and action were linked. We also appreciated how one listener felt annoyed “in my body” with both dog and human.  

The prompt, “Write about an expression of devotion” inspired responses reflecting tokens of deep meaning (“Buying a gift she didn’t know she wanted,” “a song on WhatsApp”), as well as actions (stepping away from one’s own needs to self-sacrifice for the benefit of another). Writers used different forms ranging from short/specific lists of actions to longer descriptive prose — unified by structure — describing devotion over the course of a lifetime. One writer honored a mom: “A stranger is not a stranger to her.” The last writer circled back to the Erdrich poem’s animal-companion theme, describing in vivid detail an owl diving down a chimney to rescue its mate, even at the risk of being stuck.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session Saturday, June 20th at 2pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

by Louise Erdrich
Your dog gnaws the rug you made love upon
for the last time.
When your lover left
and you rolled yourself inside the rug
to sleep in agony
your dog stayed with you.
Your dog chews out the armpits of your lover’s shirt
and shreds the underwear
you were wearing when he touched you.
That’s devotion.
The dog chews your pen and stains his tongue
then licks the white pillows.
His way of writing you a poem.
He eats the spout off the blue plastic watering can.
He starts on the porch,
a rotted board, and soon that board rips
away from the wicked red nails.
Your dog eats the nails
and does not die.
Although you have no porch,
no lover, no rug, no underwear,
you understand.
The dog is trying to eat your grief.
In helpless longing
to get close to you
he must destroy what’s close to you.

Published in the print edition 
of the December 16, 2019, issue of the New Yorker.