Tanka For the Dog Days

Noodling on numbers —and time

Photo by Alvin Balemesa on Unsplash

Maybe you already know this

The term “dog days,” meant to denote the hottest stretch of summer weather, does not derive from panting pooches lolling in the heat, their tongues unfurled. No, this period got its moniker from the ancient Romans, in reference to the star Sirius, also called the Dog Star for its position in the constellation Canis Major — which means, of course, “big dog.”

Sirius is the brightest star in our sky, and the Romans, at least the observant ones, noticed that the one-to-two-month period in which it rises and sets with the sun corresponds closely with the hottest time of the year. Therefore they concluded that the star’s presence in the sky added to the sun’s energy.

Makes more sense than any of today’s popular conspiracy theories.

Anyway, Sirius teaming up with Sol meant that everything and everybody down here on Terra Mater, including the dogs, had at least a month of sweltering temps to get through.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this year in the U.S. the dog days began on July 3 and ended on August 11. Despite how reliable the old farmers usually are, they failed to get this on the weather gods’ calendar. Because we’re solidly in mid-August as of this writing, and here in southern Idaho, all the dogs are still panting.

As am I. Never a hot weather fan, I seem unable to avoid living in locales where the summer temps rise to frying-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk levels and remain there for months.

In late June, the high temps are a novelty. By July 4, I’ve grudgingly accepted them. But by mid-August, I am as lethargic and heat-dazed as if I too were walking around in an unsheddable fur coat.

Since this season also contains some rather melancholy anniversaries as well as my own birthday, in the summer doldrums I lapse into ruminations — and this particular summer, on the odd harmonizing of certain markers on the passage.

Here’s the result. Not haiku in the traditional, nature-focused, stand-alone sense, but following the tanka syllable form of 5-7-5. Sometimes a tight frame helps me give shape to my thoughts:

Forty-seven years
That’s how long it has been since
My father’s last breath.

He was sixty-nine
At his death: my age today.
Closing the circle —

The day I was born
His age was forty-seven.
There’s more resonance:

My first husband died
At the age of fifty-four,
Twenty years ago.

I’ve outlived him by
Fifteen years. Add the two gaps:
Twenty and fifteen.

That sum will equal
The age of our youngest child,
Who was fourteen then,

When his father died.
Our older son was twenty.
It was hot then too.

In these slow dog days
That wane so quickly toward fall,
I hear soft whispers:

Go ahead, make plans,
Shape what time you have in hope,
Fill your calendar.

But understand this:
All dates should be penciled in,
Easily erased.

Don’t let this daunt you —
The truth of this has not changed.
Only now, you know.

One morning before long, there will be a tickle of autumn in the air — a tease, a promise, indescribable and undeniable. I’m looking forward to that — but for now, I’m hanging out here with the hot dogs.