Poet laureate in my mother’s bathroom

Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House

by Billy Collins

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.

He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark

that he barks every time they leave the house.

They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.

I close all the windows in the house

and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast

but I can still hear him muffled under the music,

barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,

his head raised confidently as if Beethoven

had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,

sitting there in the oboe section barking,

his eyes fixed on the conductor who is

entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful

silence to the famous barking dog solo,

that endless coda that first established

Beethoven as an innovative genius.


My apologies for the awkward dash between stanzas.  It’s the only way I can figure out to separate the stanzas in wordpress.

This poem of Billy Collins, former United States Poet Laureate (a post that seems much too stiff and ceremonial for a sweet-faced Irish fellow like him), ended up in my mother’s upstairs bathroom for the following reasons: a. she loves dogs; b. she likes little tricks; and c. I knew she’d like the silly humor of this poem. Which she did.  “Arf, arf,” she emailed me when she found it.

Plus, I think Collins, with his nimble imaginative leaps, might enjoy finding himself in that little-used room, with its patched plaster wall, untrustworthy toilet and world map shower curtain.  He seems to like going to unexpected places, at least in his imagination.

The barking dog in the poem suggests an image to me of the poet as he writes.  Collins is holding on, just barely, to a leashed dog, a curious and happy but untrained black lab.  The dog leads him where it wants to go, and Collins, no Cesar Milan, tries to keep up. He starts out for a walk around the block and ends up in a parallel universe bagging doggy turds on the corner of What-If and What-the-Heck-Just-Happened.

This is a poet with total faith in his imagination.  He follows its lead and we chase along, amused and wondering.  A barking pet keeps barking until four stanzas later Beethoven’s written a symphony for dogs.  Walking my own dog, I laughed out loud thinking about the dog sitting in the oboe section and the conductor “entreating him with his baton.” Here the original situation–the poem’s speaker wanting the dog to stop barking–is reversed.  The conductor wants the dog to keep on barking, louder and more expressively.  His efforts are successful.

Man vs. dog is usually a comic scenario (unless you’re trapped in a Stephen King novel), and the dog usually wins.  No exception here:  the dog takes over the orchestra, the symphony, and ultimately the poem itself.

Jane, ready for her solo

(Quirky timing footnote: the very weekend I hid “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” in my mother’s house, she showed me a gun she had just found hidden in my father’s dresser.  It was a black pistol, startling to find among the reading glasses and military pins of his junk drawer.  We have little experience with firearms, so it took us some time to figure out it was just a BB gun.  He must have bought it to scare off intruders who never bothered to intrude.)


  1. Susie

    I like reading this poem. Never thought of dealing with annoying noises by “working” them into your current situation. Geez, could I discipline myself to weave every annoying thing into a pleasant situation? No, I’m not crazy, yet.

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