324. “My Little Doggie”

When I was eight years old, I wrote a poem: Oh my goodness, oh my gosh. My little doggie forgot to wash. Oh my goodness, oh my grace. My little doggie has a dirty face.
I had a good sense of rhyme and meter, and the poem did also say something. Looking at it now, I don’t consider it one of the great works of literature. Perhaps there was a significant message in it about the importance of good hygiene. But I don’t think so. When I wrote it, though, I was so proud of myself! My teacher, Mrs. Saffron, made a big deal about it, and the poem was displayed on the bulletin board.
A few years later, I wrote a poem about the Civil War. The only part of it I remember was that at the end a soldier “shot a fire, and died.” What I’d meant was “fired a shot, and died.” My parents had guests over, and they were all in the
living room. A ready-made audience. I read the poem, and when I was done, there was uproarious laughter in the room. I hadn’t meant the poem to be funny.
Whatever confidence I’d gotten from my teacher’s reaction to “My Little Doggie” was severely damaged by the laughter. I’d seen my parents’ friends give lots of accolades to my brother Richie when he’d read them a love poem he’d written:
When breezes are soft and skies are fair, I steal an hour from confusion and care, And hie me away to the dreamland scene, Where wander the thoughts of thee, serene.
I put my brother’s poem to music, and we got some good feedback about our song. That felt good, and all sibling rivalry aside, I was kind of proud of my brother, and glad I could contribute music to his creation. But it was clear to me that I should leave the lyrics to Richie. I was a musician, not a poet.
Now, I’m very careful to let children know I appreciate their work. When something a child writes strikes me as funny, I hold back laughter with all my might until I’m sure it was meant to be funny. If it wasn’t, but I can’t hold back the laughter, I’m quick to apologize, and give the child serious appreciation.
I’ve recovered from the laughing episode. I’ve written lots of poems and song lyrics, and people usually only laugh at the parts I mean to be funny. So I’m okay now. Children and other people are resilient creatures. And I don’t think the laughter I got in that living room was meant to have the devastating effect it had on me. I don’t think anyone there thought I’d remember it thirty-seven years later. But I do.

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