Carson Becker & Stephen Dobyns: Shades Of The Past

Mar 18, 2015

Stephen Dobyns
Credit courtesy of NMSU

Playwright Carson Becker reflects on the legendary packs of wild dogs that used to roam Butte, Montana:

"Sometimes, before I fall asleep, I’m reminded: packs of wild dogs once roamed Butte. Itinerant and prodigal, without manners, culture or restraint. Shadowing this hill I slumber on with their restlessness, hunger and complaint. Somehow I miss them, though we’ve never met. For years they were ignored. Then an urgent injunction was decreed. Funds were found, resources wrangled, fears overcome. A local dog catcher was crowned, and feral canines were quickly put to rope, to cage, to sleep.

And this story puts me to spell.

I know that feeling, of encountering a pack. But it's not a growling cabal of dogs that scares me. Rather it is the one of men: suited, tied, sharply-heeled, with gleaming watches manacled to wrists, keeping time with their millions, computing large and small cents. Their mob petrifies me. Sucking all of the wild right out of the air, the water, the earth, the wood, the stones deciding that Wild-er-ness is a cautionary condition and clearly a better profit than source. What is elemental and irreducible in life, they pocket, this pack.

And I hear the hell hounds howling.

I dream more legend: that Butte is America, and that America is now a boom-and-bust town: discovery-and-failure, investment-and-stealth, charity-and-rapaciousness, beauty-and-hazard, synthesis-and-isolation, faith-and-abandonment, mansions-and-cabbage-patches, abundance-and-want. So much fortune. So many orphans. And then come the wild dogs: famished, fierce, restive, primal, instinctual, and so very much alive. And how could it be otherwise."

In his poem, "Pursuit," Stephen Dobyns is looking backwards, uneasily:

"Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass -
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen; then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill."

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 3/18/15 & 9/23/15. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)