As told in rhyming couplets, when a sneaky dog steals a scrupulous dog’s hole, things fall apart, sparking philosophical reflections.
At the Burbles’ place, house 42, live “Kirby the Sneak and Arlo the True,” plus Kismet the Cat. Arlo is a clay-colored guard dog who keeps watch over the yard, which includes the hole he dug as a puppy. Kirby is a black-and-white collie “of a thousand disguises, unbeaten at Clue, // Dogma Cum Laude from Trickery U,” so he devises an elaborate plan to steal Arlo’s hole. He fills it in, runs off with the hole in his mouth, and puts it in neighbor Mr. McCornchowder’s yard, making a quick escape. Somehow this alters the balance of nature: “The earthyworms’ dirts had turned hard as a rock, / And the dragonfly’s motor was starting to knock,” for example. Kismet the Wise, however, orders Kirby to “get the hole back.” With some difficulty and a little damage to himself, Kirby does so, and all returns to normal. Kirby sits down to think it over, with wide-ranging philosophical musing on the nature of holes, points, circles, physics, time, webs, and more. Both dogs find themselves reflecting on family history and tradition: Arlo’s of fidelity and Kirby’s of sneakiness and sheepherding, counterpointed with the backdrop of a perfect summer afternoon. The end of Kirby’s exploring is his grand theory, “The Downhole Effect.” Williamson (A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck, 2008, etc.), a much-published poet, seems unable to write a dull line. His lists are a special delight, as when Kirby assembles his hole-recovery gear: “One snow axe, two snorkels, a hollow point spear // A vanishing hand cream called U D’sappear,” and so on. His images are fresh and striking: an American dog with “the patience of mesas”; “the Spirograph seeds in the sunflower’s swirl.” This might resemble a children’s book, with its rhyming couplets, animal heroes, and amusing line drawings, but adults will likely better appreciate its zinging verbal wit, clever rhymes, and learned allusions.
Brilliantly comic, pleasingly discursive, admirably dexterous, this narrative poem is a tour de force.