As Charlene Fix was completing work on a book of poetry, the inspiration for it, her dog Bruno, sickened and eventually died.
She continued to write through Bruno's illness and even, at the urging of an editor, composed a "death poem" for inclusion in the book.
And there it is near the end, in all its heart-rending clarity for any who have loved a pet knowing that bidding them farewell is a sad part of the equation.
"All the Intruders in the World" concludes with:
Ten years you protected me from postmen and familiars.
You wagged and warned and slurped my nose and chin
And professed, stoutly wrapped in fur,
Your metronomic heart. Now the portal
Is unguarded, and all the intruders in the world
Can enter. Here comes the cat.
She sprawls on my chest, trying to absorb my fear.
Clintonville-area resident Charlene Fix is a professor at the Columbus College of Art and Design, as well as chair of the English and Philosophy department. She teaches writing, literature, poetry, and film and literature.
Fix was born in Washington, D.C., where her parents met during World War II. Her mother was from Manitoba, Canada, and her father from Waterville, Maine. The two corresponded while he was in Hawaii during the war, and Fix feels perhaps her affinity for the written word stems from that.
"I think they fell in love through letters," Fix said.
She and her only sibling, a sister, grew up in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid.
"We weren't steeped in all the great children's literature, but we were read to," Fix recalled.
Her career path was fixed early.
"I knew I wanted to be an English teacher in the third grade," Fix said.
She was writing poetry even at that age, inspired by her teacher.
Fix attended Ohio State University, where she earned bachelor of science and master's degrees. After serving as an adjunct faculty member, Fix taught for a decade at Bishop Watterson High School before going to CCAD nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Between the teaching and having three children with her husband of now 40 years, Patrick Fix, a retired OSU English teacher and librarian, Charlene Fix took a 10-year hiatus from writing.
Then one day she bought "reams and reams of paper" and has been filling it ever since. Fix said that she requires long stretches of absolute solitude in order to write poetry, and so waited until her youngest child was in school.
Unlike most modern poets, Fix does not have a master of fine arts degree.
"My MFA was reading and finding poets I liked, and reading them deeply," she said.
Fix is also one of now six members of a group, the "House of Toast Poets," who meet once a month to share their work and offer criticism and encouragement. The others are Fred Andrele, Jerry Roscoe, M.J. Abell, Linda Fuller-Smith and Jacquelin Smith, and they've been getting together for about 15 years.
Fix did not intend to have a dog, let alone one that would inspire an entire book of poetry, but allowed herself to be talked by a CCAD student into taking one of two puppies found in a box on some church steps. Fix soon found herself taking two slow, contemplative walks a day with the dog she named Bruno.
"A lot of poems came out of those walks," she said.
One day over coffee with CCAD philosophy professor Susan G. Josephson, Fix happened to mention the more than 50 poems that Bruno had inspired over the years. Josephson asked to look at them, and ended up putting the poems in order by season and creating illustrations to go with them.
That "Flowering Bruno: A Dogography" got published at all is somewhat unlikely. A book of poems, let alone focused largely on a dog, isn't exactly the next Tom Clancy potboiler or the latest bestselling legal thriller from John Grisham. On top of that, no university press and very few small presses, the primary source for books of poetry, will touch an illustrated one.
Finally, however, in 2006 XOXOX Press of Gambier brought out "Flowering Bruno." The title is derived from a family outing to Goodale Park during which one of Fix's daughters, Sonya, fashioned a garland of flowers for Bruno, only to have the non-swimming dog take an ill-advised plunge into the pond.
The book, which was designed by another daughter, Madeleine Fix, was a finalist for the 2007 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry.
It is also, Charlene Fix believes, a fitting tribute to a much-loved companion.
"He was my muse," she said.
Fix is also the author of a chapbook of poems, entitled "Mischief" published by Pudding House Publications of Columbus. Her latest manuscript of poems, for which she is seeking a publisher, is called "The Spent Music of Light," which is divided into poems on myth, poems on books and poems on films.
Finally, Fix is currently working on a critical nonfiction study of Harpo Marx.
And she has another dog, a collie-shepherd mix named Sasha.
"My sister made me," Fix said.
Poet Charlene Fix of the Clintonville area will be giving a reading from her works at the Rumba Café on Monday, Feb. 21.
She will be appearing as part of the winter 2011 Poetry Forum at the café, 2507 Summit St. The readings begin at 7 p.m.
The Poetry Forum has been a staple at the Rumba Café since 1984, making it the longest-running poetry venue in Columbus, according to Fix.
For more information, call (614) 268-5006.