I came to marvel Edison's poetry and writings several years ago and naturally jumped at the chance to meet this remarkable individual at the College of Santa Fe on a hot September Sunday. He stood at the podium and read his poetry about cats and car tires from his earlier works, then proceeded to tantalize the audience with new works from his recent anthology "A Dog's Life." A sense of raw energy crept up in his accent as he read about a hunting cat's folly, about the Elm tree in the backyard that stretched up higher than the clouds and smelled of warm sap. Most of the listeners latched their attention to his words.
Edison was, after all, a novelty and that hindered his importance as a writer. I read his work one day as I traversed the seemingly endless aisles of a Barnes and Noble bookstore four states away in Montana. I hesitated, waiting for the lull in his poetic power, but none came. My expectations betrayed me and I floundered in humility and indulgence. In my mind, I had found a poet with some verve and spunk and elated with bravado my discovery. I bought his book dutifully called "A Dog Day Afternoon," read every wonderful poem and enthralled in my shock when I learned of his heritage.
Now I faced him at the poetry reading he decided to do after the Creative Writing Department begged him to visit. The reception afterwards was wonderful in a minimalist way, much like Edison. He fancied himself a miser and said he didnŐt need very much. He remained in one corner with the department heads, listening to views on the modern tapestry woven out of displaced hopes of the current generation depicted in modern literature. "Don't forget," he said to his colleagues, "that my life will be short and although my range of experience does not match even the modest of high school teen-agers, we all have an angst chewing at our souls and instincts like termites in an old manŐs wooden leg." The department heads laughed.
Edison's red headed female escort proved her indifference to the conversation by picking lint of her red silk dress and constantly checking her nails for breaks that might occur from cosmic shifts in the galaxy. She rolled her forest green eyes when he requested a glass of punch and walked to the table with an air of supremacy. He thanked her, though, when she returned. He placed both paws on the pedestal and lapped up the punch with his pink tongue in only a ten seconds time. She took the glass away and he said to the amusement of the crowd, "You can't teach a dog new tricks."
I summoned up my courage to introduce myself to Edison. He seemed awfully pleased to meet anyone new. His vanilla wafer colored tail wagged flamboyantly. Even before I mentioned my name, however, he spun in circles and wagged his tail like a rabid wolf. He even barked. His reaction unnerved me; I felt as if I intruded his space and feared getting bitten. Instead, he laughed, which sounded much like a wheezing cough ejected from the back of the throat. "My God," he sputtered, "I don't believe it."
I wasn't keen on his recognition.
"Don't you recognize me," he asked.
"No," I said. "I'm afraid I don't."
He sat and placed a paw on my foot. My ego crawled out of the forum building by then and hid between the books in the Folgelson library. The crowd took a moment from their drinks and crackers and cheese sandwiches to gawk at Edison's scene. "My friends," he howled, "this man is responsible for my literary venture."
The audience slowly condensed about us, my self-conscience denying my embarrassment for fear of physical discoloration of my cheeks. "I donŐt understand," I said.
"A few years ago," he began, "I was another homeless mutt on the streets of a town called Dixon, Montana. It's a small town, mostly made up of white retirees and eccentrics with strange children. One hot and humid July afternoon, I returned from chasing cars and fighting with other brothers. I chose to lay in the shade of the Dixon Store, a small and overpriced convenient store with a lone gas pump and free air. I stretched out on the side wall in front of the door, peaceful in my ignorance. Being a dog requires little to meet expectations of humans concerning dogs, even less if your a reservation dog. I'm a cross-breed of several on the Flathead reservation. A mutt. Rez mutts are even less admired, therefore we saw no other point of becoming successful canines. As I laid there, thinking of water and Kibbles and Bits, this young man," Edison tapped my shoe with is paw, "strolled out of the store holding a six pack of Coke, wearing black as he does now, with a hint of sweat on his brow and in his scent." The crowd giggled.
"Even in his jest, he remarked, 'Get a Life,' and jumped in his car and sped away. Like his smell, I never forgot those words and it dogged me the rest of the evening.
"That day, I decided to do more than chew up cats, mark my territory or steal children's toys from their front yards. I had seen too many of my friends dance with death and end up on the side of the road, bloated and very popular with the bugs. I realized I could choose my life's story and plot and become more than a dog. Dog's don't usually aspire to more than what they are because they don't realize they have a choice. The same could be said for human teen-agers as well." Again, the crowd laughed. "Once I questioned my way of life, I no longer felt content. Highway 200 grew longer and I wondered what lay beyond the hills on both sides of town. I couldn't imagine more to the world than Dixon, so I became friendly with an elderly woman. Delora Jennings, who watched TV endlessly. I can't see the images on television, but I could hear the voices. At night, she would read and I would listen and watch her read. I began to understand the symbols and eventually could read on my own. Once I took command of speech, I communicated with Delora. Unfortunately, I hadnŐt realized my new found ability would stop her heart." Edison's ears fell against his skull at the gasps. "But, the family took me in after the funeral and accepted me and my ability to talk after three months of psychotherapy and seven exorcisms.
"I read like a mad fool, helping the children with English homework and trying to learn how to write. Damned my paws, they don't have thumbs. When I started writing, I had the children write down my work, then they would type it up. Using my unique abilities for a dog, I convinced the Letterman's, my surrogate family, to get an agent and, as you humans say ad nauseam, the rest is history."
Edison answered other trivial questions about his puppyhood, and even I had my chance to answer questions, but the poets grew bored with me. My lack of profound insights into the monster of literature dulled their fascination. I had forgotten about Edison those years, even though I did not know his name at the time. I see many peripatetic canines wandering the streets of Rez towns, no Rez town could be complete without them. I smiled to myself and Edison winked at me, though, eventually, he lost interest in my presence. Before he left, however, he thanked me once again for my influence and bid farewell. Edison left with is red-headed escort, who whispered to me before she departed: "I like cats better."
I felt odd, suddenly, as though my stomach squirmed in the cauldron of my body. In the strange karmic twists of fate, I influenced an important writer with a flippant remark and I have nothing to show for it. But then, the steps leading to my fate apparently had no place for recognition in creating Edison the writing dog. He had a talent within him, under his light tan fur and canine teeth. Edison required a push to actualize a dream he didn't know he had. I guess how our destiny unfolds according to the advice we accept is totally up to us.
Even to a writing and talking dog.