Gerald Schwartz


This Dog Doth Hunt: On Bark: A Polemic by David Meltzer*

Bark: A Polemic
Bark, A Polemic
by David Meltzer
Yes! Capra Press, 1973

I walked into Albany's Dove and Hudson Bookstore in (I'm sure it was May) 1988 and bought three books -- Him, a play by (yes, the initials were in caps) E. E. Cummings, A Preface to Metaphysics by Jacques Maritain and Bark: A Polemic by David Meltzer. I still have all three books, but Bark receives the most return visits maybe because it still seems to jump with its quirky, droll and infinite authenticity -- jam-packed as it is with spleen and wine and rut and salt. Always in the pilot-house, Meltzer trowels in the found, the vernacular, the invented-on-the-spot and the antique forms refinished. Always he hits the certainty. And I read Bark today as I read it then mostly because D.M. uses the whole range of diction from vulgar to technical -- mixing circa 1970 Bolinas-ese with wisdom writing -- a mix that constantly reconstitutes itself in my ear, head and heart ...

* * *
thy full circle
leads to god. Thy name
mirror claims as

This sums up a sacred path: reality ought to be written only as a prayer, at best a poetic composition. It must, as it seems to me, be possible to gather from this how far our thinking belongs to the present, future or past. We reveal ourselves as those who cannot quite do what we would like to be able to do.


Lassie is Mickey Mouse
Fido is a robot
Pluto is not Charlie Chaplin.

Famous names to all. Sometimes we treat the method of projection as given. When we ask for instance: What name would fit this dog's character? But sometimes we project the character into the name, treating this as a given. Lassie, Mickey Mouse, Fido, Pluto (and, yes, Charlie Chaplin) have just the names which suit their work.

Dream of eagles & lions but we are dogs bark bark mounting her, our furry flanks slap against her hips bark bark. She always faces the camera smiling, you always look down in shame

More and more whether or not we see ourselves otherwise, we're going to be involved with our publics and our privates. All frontals will be erect; the posteriors will be verso. Smile, our asses are on "NOW ON DEMAND," 24/7.

Bark is what us dogs do here in Dogtown
it's a dog's life
we cant live without you.
Mirror you we are you.

As we live our doggie life, we grind our upper and lower teeth together rhythmically. Sometimes we notice this beforehand though we usually do it quite unconsciously. What's more, it's as though what we dream is made by this movement, seen too often in mirrors ghostlier, more blurred and less pronounced.

You gotta remember
It's the Ship of State that's carrying us away.
Not the people jumping off.

Here we are displaced in at least two directions. On one hand, by speaking in terms of our myth rather than our nation. Meltzer ignores and thus rejects the discourse around "America" -- the often triumphant idea that our ship of state is a particularly national accomplishment. Instead, here we have a certain kind of universalist discourse, talking about "people" as a whole. Here is OUR universalism.

     One of many masters kicked his slats & dog-lovers poured pitchers of Coor's over Fritz the Wonder Dog, trying to suck back his wormy gut. Suddenly a bloody snake on the saloon floor.

Dogs (blessedly) are notoriously without reverence for their beginnings, live in terror of Big Dog, and go out with no rites or care for their inheritance. One of the great dog questions continually asks: What is the baleful spirit of the place that turns dogs into sages, mages, or rocks of ages? It happens all the time.

Both went
neither came.
O merciful God
cares not for
crushed dog.

God talk is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in life. For this is a real event and so is despair and salvation through faith. We tell what happens to us, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.

Somebody's always there
higher up
waiting to order your race thru life.

Something is there, far beyond the Transmission of Nothing and all the palaver of merchandise men, for someone with straight connections between the ears, eyes, head and gut. It is, in a word, a vulnerary for those outraged.

I sent him to school & when he comes back he can
walk with me down any street.

When we deny the dog in us, as we do, eating, sexually pulsating and giving off dense physical emanations, then we have a big stink. Our awkwardness comes from one thing only, not our poverty, politics, government, but from the twitch against our own ordure.

on a leash
doin time
chain gang

Some energies are what make us human and distinguish us from other animals. Unlike dogs, we're capable of reconstructing our perceptions, detaching ourselves from the basic elements of the sensory field. Working in the work of words, we begin to master our super-beam forces, cranking out new structural centers to the way it is. Never underestimate this: it can help us as a species survive incarceration.


A war of power
Ours against theirs
A waste of time
Ours & theirs.

Alpha-cur at alpha-cur, arching backs, full snarls, trying to win -- mostly worlds. Yet, when we think of us other dogs -- out in the street -- we cannot predict our survival. We must accept the fact -- our lives are in constant danger from the evils of colonial society. Considering how we must live, it is ours and theirs. And all the while, wars: cold or terror, foisted on us by the Alpha curs. All the while dumbing-down our sciences and our futures.

Neutered     spayd
Fixed     altered
Stud & bitch
Walk around in circles
Trying to remember
Something like
What to do

A flaneur de mots, Meltzer shows us our human foibles are nearly erotic in their intensity. His attention -- relaxed, acute, close to the bone and always omnivorous, constantly refocusing -- never alerts us to its real object or purpose until it comes to rest. Then the whammy's unloaded, suddenly all takes shape, word for word, as dressage on artistic frailty and our very real vulnerability.

Tagged & coded
Licensed & collared
Now you can walk our streets.

Still, we disem(bark): our sense of wandering persists, even though we have been processed. Moreover, these streets have no fixed character -- each new street inspires new visions, darkening memories.

She buckles a chemical collar around his neck.
The circle spreads death to fleas.

Perceptions have changed very little since antiquity, and our ability to slaughter our others more effectively is one of our few technological improvements.


A kid in a harness hooked to a leash
wrapped around the iron stem of a turnstile
crying for anybody to unhook him

One of the things that make me scream out in the middle of a Super Wal-Mart and make all manner of uncouth noises is the (apparent) fact that a whole body of traditional reference is going out of currency. We're all fed vast amounts of commercial swill and vernal junk, but whom, for instance, reads the self-check-out for its messages, if nothing else?

In packs dogs are sleek.
They move together in formation.
Cows & goats & deers & possums dont last long.
But Mack the farmer sees to it clogs dont either.

The diction is meaningfully familiar, but the fact that death is unavoidable emerges as a specter of horror encountered -- spiritual immortality (the pack) links to the nothingness of material death.

     He put dog in his place & gave him a name & a collar & trained him with a rolled-up newspaper never to sing again.

Singing, we dogs convey the feeling of unfettered nature. Trained up, conditioned, we remember our common past, rays of hope, of light, those sources of spiritual and emotional unity. Sometimes we're forced to choose between atonement and redemption.

Out damned Spot.

Terrors are much in our minds as in the enemy's. Blood stains marble, as living waters die leaving their marks. And all the while, Everyman dreams of preeminence above others, single-mindedly seeking "purity."

In Bolinas town-dogs hang around like dandies, hang-out like candystore cut-ups, lost for action, always under foot.
     In their eyes the signal: What's happening? Que pasa? Vas machstu? Where's the action? In Bolinas town-dogs are bored & thoroughly collectivized. They are free dogs, liberated from masters, they eat from house to house. Low to the ground to imitate a small dog they eat out of the smaller dog's backyard bowl until small dog's master hits big dog in the rib-cage with a chip of broken glass nobody will sew up.

This dials up a strange prosecution: humans at present are at a misshapen stage, neither possessing the gentler customs of the beast, nor the faculties of our others.... Since we are not going to be different for another thousand millennia, we should select certain animals to teach us to be just, eat and gender at regular intervals, and die of fear and embarrassment. What are we that we should imagine we are more than a dog?

Dog sits on the floor
licking his privates.
It springs out like a flower
folded in a pink bulb.

A lick or stroke that does not make us toil for our fate deprives us of energy, which is our most tragic and noble weapon against the infinite, and without which we are neither epic nor universal. An act that weakens our will is inartistic, for all will be perdurable. Knowing that death is always tapping us on the shoulder, we lick to forget death.

     I was a kid & all facts were taught thru movie-screens & radio. Neither as I recall had teeth.

In the days of silent film all kinds of long-haired music were played as accompaniments but nothing with power, nothing with bite. Not Brahms, because it's too abstract. I can imagine exciting scenes in movies backed up by Beethoven or Liszt. But this would not help me to understand "hate" radio. Bruckner on the other hand would go with a movie, silent or otherwise.

Dog my totem
Lion my first name
Dog my totem
Completely colonialized.

Fountains of Baudelaire (!): poetry, art and criticism working together! What's important is choosing the right kind of expression. Meltzer prefers the abstractions of the interpersonal, the felt, and perhaps idiosyncratic expression to the abstractions of intellectualized expressions that are meant for a general and indefinite audience.

thy full circle
leads to God, thy name
mirror claims as

Chased full-circle, on and on we go, reading as we will, until we chase no more.

*Bark: A Polemic was first published by Capra Press, Santa Barbara, CA. Copyright © 1973 by David Meltzer. The full text is available at Light & Dust.


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