A Change of Tense

May 26, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Posted in writing | 21 Comments
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Every time you leave for work the poor dog thinks you’ve gone forever. He sulks and lies in the hallway with his big boof head on his paws facing the door waiting for you to come home. When he gets bored or hungry he mopes into the office and hangs around my desk until I feed him or take him for a walk along the beach but then he heads straight back to lie down, nose pointing at the door, waiting and hoping. Finally, near sunset, he hears the bus go past and comes charging in to get me, turning from the computer to the office door and back again impatiently until I finished a paragraph or nutted out a change of tense in a difficult sentence. Then I would open the front door to see him bound ludicrously to the gate just in time. He would get so insanely happy when you appeared whistling and smiling, I’m sure he was worrying all day that you might never come back. Now he has stopped eating and has just been lying there in the hallway for days on end. Neither of us knows what to do. It is very quiet and we miss you.

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  1. I like this piece a lot but the tenses don’t feel quite right. I’m not sure if you’re playing with them for effect but personally I found them a distraction.
    Thanks, Jim. I hope the tense only changes twice. It is kind of the technical point of the piece and I’m trying to get a sense of him talking to her in the present tense even though she exists in the past so the first change of tense happens mid-sentence, reflecting the unexpectedness of her passing. I have been fiddling with it for days.

  2. I’ll found it a bit clunky too, but fun.
    Thanks, Noah. Hmm, clunky. Perhaps I have out-trickied myself. But it is too late now. No more fiddling with it.

  3. I think it’s funny the way the tense changes in the sentence where it says the tense changes, haha. You do it to purposefully discombobulate people, bad you. Lovely piece. I’m beginning to like that old flea bitten mongrel. Is it raining there still?
    No it’s stopped raining thank goodness. I wasn’t trying to discombobulate particularly, more create an effect. Have to keep experimenting and exploring, especially with why minor chords sound so sad. Maybe this one just didn’t work, oh well,

  4. You know what, I disagree with the other comments, and the tense change worked for me…so much so that I only barely noticed it. I became swept away in the longing of it all and could just feel the dog panting and whining and the days dragging on into each other as they both became consumed with pining. I think this is one of the best pieces I’ve read here. I want to know more.
    Wow, thanks, Maxine. It’s a split decision. Somethings will work for some people and not others, I guess.

  5. Funny, I loved the idea of calling it change of tense and doing so in the piece. I found this to be one of your strongest poems 🙂 which is hard to do with dogs and missing someone oh how the sentimental overload could have happened, but didn’t! Nice work.
    Cool, thanks Jessie. Sentimentality is a delicate line, another one of those things where it is hard to get it right for everyone.

  6. I was too concerned about the drama of the dog to worry about the tense. That’s just me. I hate that we can’t explain things to them. But in general, I think grammar serves a purpose of clarification and fiddling with it too much just obfuscates.
    Yes, I agree in general with the purpose of grammar, it did evolve for a purpose, but then again I am a ratbag and rules must always be tested through deliberate disobediance.

  7. My bee is a lost of tense the problem, the dog might have forgotten that the future exists. Or maybe he became completely subjectivist and believes things dont exist when he does not see them.
    As always, a unique and wonderful reading, thankyou, Mariana.

  8. Ok i didnt notice if you changed tenses, my english’s too fairly unschooled to rebel 😦 … but i did notice the change of tense, beautifully wrought
    Thankyou, Ms Mist. You always make me smile.

  9. The tense thing is a little distracting. So I re-read it all in present tense in my head. There’s still the surprise that she’s gone at the end of the piece. A shift in thinking that might draw some readers out of the story to focus more on the language structure/syntax occurs with the tense shift, but realization (aha) in the story actually comes with “Now he has…” not with the change of tense in the middle of the sentence. The title would still work if this is written in present tense.

    I guess I see what you’re trying to do, technically. I just wonder whether or not you want the tense shift to be obvious. It may never be obvious to some readers who don’t think much about grammar and such. Readers who come to a screeching halt when they see it’s used for its or loose for lose are probably more likely to immediately notice the tense shift. Then they’ll have to decide whether or not they want to keep reading and figure out why it’s there and if it’s intentional and if it works.

    Given time and fertilizer, several readings, and a few more whacks on the head, this discomfort might grow on me. ::wink::
    Enough with the whacking yourself on the head, Agnes the Kari person. You’ll hurt yourself. You are correct as always in your interpretation. It is just one of those things that depends a lot on the reader.

  10. I love tense change, personally, and I get in trouble for it quite often, too. It’s fun.
    Cool, thanks Vesper.

  11. I’ve been doggy-doo deep in animal poetry as of late. Much of it is too sappy, too sentimental, or just misses the mark completely. This one, Paul… this one is a keeper. I felt so sorry for the pup throughout but I kept reading, waiting for the return and the reunion. When I realized there was no reunion, at least yet, sadness kicked me in the gut and I still feel heartbroken. It was not the ending I expected.

    I really like this, Paul.
    Thankyou, Bryan. It’s always intrigued me how themes and memes seem to travel through bloggoland like a contagion, beyond rational explanation, poetry poker.

  12. i get the tense change

    it’s a tense change
    Yes it is, a change of tense.

  13. Oh this makes my heart hurt it’s so tender.
    Oh, sorry, haha. Thankyou.

  14. Wonderful story of was and is.
    Thankyou, Aletha.

  15. the unwinding of time is meaningless to a dog perhaps… only that we wait for a return when one departs… nothing is so precious as a waiting dog knowing the sound of master… it is a nice surprising piece of work paul… sorta like magic.. is it the anticipation that is so sweet knowing that eventually time turns the whistle is heard and one returns home.. i mean why else would you wait the anticipation that it will happen.. not to worry
    Magical comment, Ms Pie. Thankyou

  16. I can see how the shift in gears aka tense change could be a bit disruptive, but I thought it was quite clever, intentionally, as you always are.
    As are you, Harmonie,

  17. Poetrgrin and paul: “themes and memes”

    “Memes of mind behind our themes,
    imitate, imitate, replicate, replicate,
    temes of memes behind our grind,
    nothing real could ever initiate,
    parasites from space to put God in his place…
    and the host blew his goddamn brains out!”
    Oh, I hope not, Mariana. Sounds a little extreme. It is one of the most interesting things about bloggoland, spiderwebs of thought,

  18. The change of tense in this sentence works beautifully for me:

    Finally, near sunset, he hears the bus go past and comes bounding into the office to get me, turning from the computer to the office door and back again impatiently until I had finished a paragraph or nutted out a change of tense in a difficult sentence.

    I had just found your site and was browsing the writings, and this one grabbed me. Powerful story told economically.
    Hello, thankyou.

  19. NIce. Change of tense, like we are together, or are we were together or …

    Thank you for writing this with the dog. I like how the narrator’s and the dog’s feelings interact and get confused with one another. this piece inspires me to play with characters and having a narrator pretending that the character, say a rock or sofa or fish or dog is feeling what narrator is feeling.
    Cool. Experimenting is very important. “Complacency is the enemy of art” as some old fogey once said. Have fun.

  20. I’m a little late in the game with this comment, as the piece in question was written May, but hey what the hell. 😉 Okay, this was a touching bit of writing. I know about that, because my own words frequently make people cry, I make people cry, so you know I’m an expert on these matters. My take: If you hadn’t mentioned ‘tense’ in the title no one would have noticed the ‘tense’ issue. Remember your quote from Voltaire mon amis: It is not enough to conquer, one must also seduce. For what it i worth, I liked it because it was real and there was something of your soul in those words. Of course, I’m just a Canadian peasant…eh…:0

  21. Sorry, doesn’t work for me; As you’re writing in the Present Simple, it’s got to be Present Perfect not Past Perfect: “until I’ve finished a paragraph or nutted out a change of tense”

    If you want a daring change of tense, how about briefly hitting the Future Simple before scurrying back to the safety of the Present: “Then I’ll open the front door and he bounds to the gate just in time” Much more interesting than that clunky conditional “would” that you used, which quite put me off my slice of Pedant Pie 🙂


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