Rover Khayyam was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the middle of the eighth decade of the twentieth century and probably dug his last Hole (see Rubai LXXV) in the latter half of the ninth decade of the same century. This marks a span of perhaps eleven or twelve years, average for a sporting dog. Yet in these few years, Rover led a robust life. Apparently his path was for a while entwined with one of the more famous dogs of our time—herself a putative best-selling writer who sat beneath the Seat of Power in the White House. There appear to have been liaisons with at least one royal dog in London. Discretion prevents me from surmising more, a discretion that Rover has observed in the poem cycle you are about to read. Clearly he felt that to name names and tell tales would be less than well bred (Rubai XI), and by breeding I refer to character, not necessarily to pedigree. (Rubai X).
How Rover first came to write poetry is a more worthy riddle than guessing at paramours. Rover refers to a certain Beauregard (Rubai XXVII), who may have played an influential role in the Master’s life, teaching skills that, while not ennobling, are certainly handy.
As for the mechanics of Rover’s writing, I need only observe that countless animals (cats, dogs, even rabbits) have written books. Inevitably these books have included involved explanations (inserted by some well-meaning human) of how the author’s “words” were rendered into print. Archy, a cockroach and a poet, alludes to this in a note to Don Marquis, his human literary assistant: “boss i am disappointed in some of your readers, they are always interested in technical details when the main question is whether the stuff is literature or not.” Archy, of course, wrote in lowercase because he couldn’t throw his typewriter’s shift key.
I met Rover in July 1992. Imagine an early Saturday afternoon, say about 1:30. The heat is intense. I am lounging by my backyard pool. A fresh, frosty pilsner (Pennsylvania microbrew) and a small tray of roast beef sandwiches beside a bowl of potato chips wait patiently nearby on a small folding table. On my lap rests a hardback copy of—well, who can remember that far back anyway? But I do remember that I heard such a clatter from outside the fence circumscribing my yard (Rubai XII). Thrusting my book aside, I jumped up and went over to the gate. A large dog, obviously a Dalmatian, was rooting through my trash. I seized my leaf skimmer (you suburbanites will know whereof I speak) and dashed out of the yard, flailing and shouting, a tactic that normally puts the casual stray to flight. But this time I was to receive the surprise, for the dog dashed past me and into my yard. I gave chase (Rubai VI), now genuinely angry and with a mind to give the miscreant a sound whack or two before sending him on his way. When I reentered my yard, I was astonished to see the dog poised, Sphinx-like, beside my lawn chair. I stopped, aware that this was not an intruder to be flushed out with threats and bravado. The dog began to bark. Incredibly, I understood him: “Tape recorder, fetch!”…
Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.
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