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Original Poem: “The Barking Dog of Karma” with Commentary

Updated on March 6, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Writing poetry became my major composing activity circa 1962, & Mr. Malcolm Sedam's creative writing class in 1963-64 deepened my interest.

Barking Dog

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Introduction and Text of “The Barking Dog of Karma”

My original poem, “The Barking Dog of Karma,” separates the men from the boys in terms of the effects of karma on dreaming. The reader might ask, “is it that karma is the bi**h” (female dog) or is it dreaming that is the bi**h” (female dog)”? Either way, it’s a fun poem to kick around, even if it does address a distressing, even disturbing, matter.

The Barking Dog of Karma

O how one can suffer that fine line
Between dream and nightmare!

Some dream ghosts whisk by nearly unremarkable:
No broken hearts, no public nudity, no murderers
Closing in on your heels, just puppies and ice cream,

While others baffle and throw you off kilter.
They invade, painting you in a scene
You would never have willingly entered.

Why should you couple with this one
For whom you have no attraction in the light of day?
Who seems to walk out of some distant past

Entering the space occupied by another—
Recognized, yet unrecognized, in this dream-mare?
Karma is sometimes a dog that barks at you

And other times growls, trying to get your attention
You suppose, but for what purpose?
You know you have seeds to burn. You know you could

Have been coupled in a past life. But why
Are you forced to revisit it now against your will?
O, you do know dreams come to you against your will.

You may enjoy some, scorn others; still, they come
Spewing forth from the old memory hole.
Life is a series of lessons; you have learned that much

From experience and God. You can control
What you do with your eyes open, but when you close them
And try to rest that brain and its soldiers, you would

Have your rest be peaceful and unfettered by past
Emotional, and possibly physical ties that time
And death and life again have broken—

Only God knows
How many times.

Commentary

I do not like dreaming. I wish I would just sleep and not dream. Luckily, I am becoming more apt to not remember most dreams. Dreaming is a karmic bi**ch (female dog), in my opinion.

First Movement: Dreams vs Nightmares

O how one can suffer that fine line
Between dream and nightmare!

The speaker begins with an effusion that suffering is the dude that can act as the "fine line" separating dreams from nightmares. This suffering is, however, a special kind; it plays out on the dream-level of awareness that bleeds into the waking consciousness, depleting one’s good store of daytime calmness, a commodity that we all crave so severely and so often, it seems, is in such meager supply.

Second Movement: Common Dream Images

Some dream ghosts whisk by nearly unremarkable:
No broken hearts, no public nudity, no murderers
Closing in on your heels, just puppies and ice cream,

The speaker then throws out some images that many folks may recognize from their own dream/nightmare, for example, suffering the loss or death of a loved one, and then luckily to awake and that loved one still be with one.

Or “public nudity”—who hasn’t dreamed of being naked in public? In this one, the dreamer searches for anything to put on, but things to put on keep eluding one, interminably it does seem.

Who hasn’t been visited by the nightmare of some vagrant blackguard stalking and nearly capturing one or one’s loved ones—perhaps banging on the door to one’s abode as one cowers, perhaps with those very loved ones, inside?

After a series of bad dreams though, the speaker claims that some dreams may be as innocent as “puppies and ice cream”—sweet dreams that one is quite happy to continue sleeping to continue to enjoy, and wishing to enjoy any sequel that might visit one during one’s nightly sojourn into dreamland.

The boundary between “dream” and “nightmare” sometimes bludgeons the sleeper and sometimes too often, sometimes too blatantly, sometimes too intensely.

Third Movement: The Unthinkable

While others baffle and throw you off kilter.
They invade, painting you in a scene
You would never have willingly entered.

As “unremarkable" as the second movement's dream images may be, there are others that “throw you off kilter.” And who hasn’t had a dream that has upset one? You may do things in dreams that you would never do while awake.

And upon waking, you are appalled and remain appalled the entire day as the slutty dream keeps banging on your memory as you go about your daily routine. You feel your life has been invaded and you cannot do a darn thing about it! You can only wait and wait and wait, until time throws it fading ink onto the page of images that are writing on your brain against your will.

Fourth Movement: The Ick Factor

Why should you couple with this one
For whom you have no attraction in the light of day?
Who seems to walk out of some distant past

Now, we get to the heart of the matter: this speaker is reporting that she dreams of having an intimate relationship with someone whom she does not find attractive “in the light of day,” that is, when she is awake. She speculates that this unattractive person must be someone with whom she had a relationship in the “distant past.”

Reincarnation provides a wide and long stage upon which to play out one’s duties and deeds. The dog of karma is that dog that continues to bark at one until one has burned all of those karmic seeds in the fires of enlightenment.

In the cold light of literal day, dogs are wonderful companions to the human heart and mind, but not this one—whose bark is, without doubt, even worse than its bite. The constant drone of any unwanted sound can be like a whip slashing the back—only the tracks of this whip-slashing will produced wounds that will heal. The mental echo of sound can become excruciating in its seeming interminableness.

Fifth Movement: A Literal Karmic Dog

Entering the space occupied by another—
Recognized, yet unrecognized, in this dream-mare?
Karma is sometimes a dog that barks at you

In the day-light, everyday reality, the speaker is happily sheltered in a loving relationship and is baffled by the intrusion of a lesser, gross occupier of the space, occupied by her mate. She then admits that the interloper seems both recognizable and unrecognizable in the “dream-mare.”

The speaker complains, “Karma is sometimes a dog that barks at you” — taking the term dog quite literally, in a figuratively real world, which now exists on a supposed plane; she cannot escape it, she has to live through it, and she can only wait as she goes about with a brain-load of nuisance thoughts. She might as well have nails rattling around in her head or a belly full of lead, dragging her down. That day will not go well, and there is not a darn thing she can do about it!

Sixth Movement: The Dog Growls

And other times growls, trying to get your attention
You suppose, but for what purpose?
You know you have seeds to burn. You know you could

While karma might sometimes bark at you, trying to get your attention, other times it “growls,” but what is the difference? The bald fact is that the speaker is rendered twisting in the wind of confusion; despite knowing certain things, she knows she does not know others. She knows and yet does not know.

Even though the speaker is one who knows about such things: i.e., she knows she has karma to answer for, and apparently is in the process of doing so. She knows she “[has] seeds to burn.” Yet knowing and not knowing have splattered together in a force that leaves her day in tatters.

Seventh Movement: The Past Is a Dog

Have been coupled in a past life. But why
Are you forced to revisit it now against your will?
O, you do know dreams come to you against your will.

The speaker knows that she and the unattractive dream intruder (who in some cases may be ugly as sin, rendering “unattractive” a pale euphemism) could have had this intimate relationship in the past—in a past life!

But why on earth must she endure these nightly intrusions now “against her will”? — she does know that "dreams come to you against your will.” Again, knowledge cannot erase the past—only fire that burns those seeds can offer succor after it cleanses.

Eighth Movement: Living and Learning

You may enjoy some, scorn others; still, they come
Spewing forth from the old memory hole.
Life is a series of lessons; you have learned that much

The speaker then avers that some dreams are enjoyable yet others are not. They just come “spewing forth from the old memory hole.” We all know we cannot control our dreams for the most part. The speaker states that living teaches one things, and she has learned some of them.

Repetition seems to be the only teacher sometimes. The student sometimes must hear the same bit of information many times before s/he actually takes it into her being.

Ninth Movement: Controlling the Uncontrollable

From experience and God. You can control
What you do with your eyes open, but when you close them
And try to rest that brain and its soldiers, you would

The speaker has learned many lessons of life from “experience and God.” She understands that what she does while she is awake, she “can control.” But when she is asleep trying to get some rest . . . why, O, why, O, why?

The speaker is left to wonder and wander in the wilderness of her own field of thought cudgels that seem to transform themselves into knives cutting her very sanity, it seems, as she flees down the daylight hours from those night hours that have become enemies of her soul.

Tenth Movement: Portals of Relief

Have your rest be peaceful and unfettered by past
Emotional, and possibly physical ties that time
And death and life again have broken—

The speaker wants to rest peacefully—not be bothered by phantoms messing with her body and her mind. She knows that all those deaths she has experienced were mere portals of relief. They broke each emotional and physical tie for the purpose of giving her rest.

Yet that rest is now eluding her because that darn dog barking in her metaphorical ear has become so loud as to thunder through her day, returning at inopportune moments. She may come to question whether she can even complete a competent task as those dog barks keep presenting themselves.

Eleventh Movement: The Karmic Rest

Only God knows
How many times.

The speaker has no idea how many times she has had to die to erase the physical, mental, and emotional ties she has created and endured in past lives. But would it suffice to know a specific number? What if that humber is 100 million-billion-or-trillion? Then what?

But no, the speaker is not asking such a mundane question; she is merely trying to put an end to this poem, the same way she wants to put an end to the day that she has suffered the returning memory bites of an excruciating nightmare, which she hates but suspects she is stuck with for, God knows, how long.

So, what is the speaker even doing here? She wants rest and relief from her obvious past mistakes. Thus, she must continue to suggest to her mind the answer to the perpetual question: Will her karma ever give her rest? Even though she knows the answer with her mind—eventually—she eagerly anticipates that after her soul is ready, it will kick out the dog barks and let in the music of the spheres, along with the light she so desperately craves . . .

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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