If you love something, let it go. If it builds a spaceship and flies to Sirius, then honey, it never deserved the satellite of you, anyways.
C. S. E. Cooney’s “Dogstar Men” is a stirring, planet-spelunking anti-ode to perfect love, and compatible lovers. All the men they might have loved, our poem’s speaker tells us, have upped and gone to Sirius: “the Dogstar / The Dreadstar of Summer / That Cranberry Bog, that Red Lamp District / Promising Scarlet Women, Scarlet Waves of Grain / A Wine-Stained Sea”. These men, these erstwhile Jack Harknesses, have slipped free from their own braids of hair. They’ve left the braids behind, like so many withered snakes in the speaker’s hands, taking everything else. I picture our speaker standing with an armful of hacked-off locks, gazing skyward and sighing, or cursing.
Mood, and tone, are my favourite things about this poem: we might sympathize, passing the speaker a cup of hibiscus tea in commiseration, or we might steups, helping them sift through lonely hearts e-columns for the names of men more inclined to stay on this terra firma. I love “Dogstar Men” because it reminds us with a kind of animated wistfulness that the world of courtship only becomes more vast, and possibly more inscrutable, with the advent of interstellar travel. This is a brief, and capaciously-bodied poem: a scrapper and a mourner, a dweller on hypotheticals and a determiner of future courses, manless and aware of that absence. Does this take ghosting to another level – nay, another pair of parsecs away?
I want to root for this poem’s speaker, imagining their grin, wry and wine-soaked, as they contemplate the bougainvillea leaves and bloodsoup of Sirius. I want to tell them, as they count and cut their losses, a man’s a faulty object, compared to time and space.
This is the fourteenth installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.