My Pet, My Clock by Mary Ruefle

A pet is a good way to tell time, better than a clock, for time is a measure of the changing positions of objects, and soon it will be time to feed the pet, to exercise the pet, to replace its little ball, clip its nails or talons, wash it ever so gently, vacuum up its sheddings and so forth. And eventually the sad day comes when it must die, and then it is time to get another. A clock, on the other hand and against all appearances, is a very poor way to tell time, for all it ever does is sit there or hang on the wall, and very seldom does it do anything of itself to remind you of time. Of course we live in a country where twice a year time springs forward or falls back, and on those occasions – the mock birthdays of time – a little fuss must be made over the clock, but other than that it does not really ask for much. If you are desirous of saving time one of the best things you can do is buy your clock batteries on one of its birthdays, eliminating the need for a gift on the next occasion. But other than these few inconveniences the care of your clock will never be a way of marking time, despite the fact we bring them into our homes for just this purpose. A clock is in fact no better than a dead pet. I myself have neither clock nor pet, and well might you ask what I do for time, though I prefer to put it somewhat differently: what has time ever done for me? Very little, it would seem; time has robbed me of my youth, my energy, strength, sprite, the vigor I was in my childhood famous for, and all the natural oils in my once-luxurious tresses. Once I felt enough for time to invest in a little gold fish, but alas he died two days later in a gallant attempt to jump his bowl, which was successful, though not in time, for in England there is a physicist by the name of Julian Barbour who believes time does not exist as we commonly perceive it to exist, that is in a passing continuum; no, he believes time, our time, time on earth, is made up of unconnected, absolutely discrete units, the length of an instant, which eternally occur, having no past and no future. In this sense of time, my gold fish is forever happily swimming in his new bowl and forever leaping from it in an adventurous frolic, or spasm of despair, depending on your view, which is also subject to time, as it is evident the views of old age do not coincide with youthful ones. But in this other world, the world of discrete eternal units, your pet needs his dinner, as he is whining at his bowl, yet does not need his dinner, as he has just eaten and is lying by the fire. Your pet has become a most inaccurate way of marking time, whereas the lifeless clock on the mantle, a discrete unit itself, dependent on no one and subject not to the passing of time, will finally have its day and serve its true purpose of marking time, which neither moves forward nor falls back, requiring no adjustments whatsoever, though, when this day comes and the clock is restored to its rightful place in our homes, if not our hearts, I often wonder if it will still be said when looking at a clock, as is the custom now, how beautiful it is to have lived, how blessed that one can die.

Mary Ruefle
Seneca Review
Voume XXXIV, Number 2

also published at Poetry Daily

2 Replies to “My Pet, My Clock by Mary Ruefle”

  1. My dog is a timekeeper, springing awake at 6 every morning and bugging us to go to bed by 9:30 every night. I suppose our bodies could also be used to mark time, given how they scream at us to “Eat!” or “Get some sleep!” or “Take a bath already!”

  2. There was once a Time when I did not know that I had a cousin who was an esteemed poet. Then one day she had plans to speak her poetry at Carnegie Mellon for all of us in Pittsburgh. We all made plans to go and see her and meet her. We had dinner together and shared many memories, reflections, and inspirations. It was a time for a family reunion and a time for introductions.
    My calico cat Blink ran by me faster than the ticks of the second hand, as I read her poetry and meditated on it.
    And then time went on and on and on like the wild and restless ivory horses of my youth. Recently, I’ve been wondering how she has been doing.
    Does anyone ever speak to her?
    Has anyone in my family kept up on her poetry?
    So I was looking to get in touch with another cousin of mine, whom I had only ever met once also, somewhere back in time’s gone by at either a great uncle’s funeral or a fire hall wedding.
    So I Googled Ruefle…
    and Mary, Mary, Mary Ruefle’s name came up over and over again. The irony is that her name and her work is all over the internet and I see it all the time now, but she doesn’t use it or check her e-mail at all, or so I’m told.
    So I do believe however that in the kairos and chronos of God’s timing I will see her and
    speak to her about poetry again. Or at least somwhere in Heaven…at the sound of the last trumpet…
    when Time will be eternal and forever.
    Bob Ruefle

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