- Hello. Is this the shelter for animals that make the wrong sounds?
Mouse: Speak. Speak.
- Yes. I need a…
Duck: Snack. Snack.
- I don't need a snack. How would I eat a snack through the phone?
Dog: Fork! Fork!
Parakeet: Eat. Eat.
- I don't need food! I'm calling to get a pet.
- I said, I need a pet!
Frog: Give-it. Give-it.
- No! I need YOU to give ME a pet!
- This is ridiculous!
- Of course I'm mad! You aren't listening to me!
- Who do you think you are?
- Very funny. I'm hanging up!
Today’s post isn’t really a poem so much as a comic strip, but it just happens to be in my own children’s top 3 favorite of my writings. Every time I pull out the poems, they ask for this one and it gets them in a crazy mood. The Shelter for Confused Animals is also a great way to get the kids whipped up before bedtime. They crawl up the stairs to their rooms making mixed up, rude animal sounds all the way and continue them for the next 20 minutes.
I thought of this poem/story at work while overhearing a phone conversation in a nearby office. The people on the phone were clearly not understanding each other, or choosing not to understand each other, and things escalated quickly. First there was a steady raising of the speaking volume from both callers – up the scale from “maybe they didn’t hear me?” to “they’re going to hear me this time, dangit!” Then there was the exasperated huffing sound followed by a stompy pacing of the office with the headset still attached. Next, the mute button was pressed while the caller near me hit the desk with a fist and spoke a few mouth-wash worthy words before unmuting to shout into the headset again. A few frightened prairie dog heads started poked up over cubicle walls and a couple of office doors slammed shut to keep out the racket. At that time I started chuckling and thinking of a farm full of animals braying, honking, barking and squawking at each other trying to be heard. I wanted to tap the caller and remind them to use use an “inside voice”, but somehow I think that might have made the situation worse.
Speaking of strange animal sounds, it’s fun to think about the sounds we make up to describe what animals say. I’ve yet to hear a dog talk about tree coverings or housetops. The sounds they make aren’t even close to those words. A duck does not say “quack”, not by a long shot. Ducks sound much more like “qckckckqkqkqkc” to me. If you ever come across a bird that looks you in the eye and pronounces in a clear voice, “chirp, chirp, tweet”, you would probably run in terror. Some animal sounds I get, but most of them are pretty poor imitations and it’s no wonder that we can’t communicate with animals when we completely mangle their words. Perhaps they’re having the same issue when trying to talk to us? When a dog growls, maybe it genuinely thinks it’s doing a good impression of a human saying, “hello, my name is Jon”. I don’t know for sure, but I get a much better reaction from a cow when I throw my head back and belt out a real cowlike moan from deep in my gut. It’s usually a bad reaction, but at least I got through. I’m sure the cow that tried to run me over after my insulting bovine speech really thought about it later and probably appreciated that I was actually trying instead of just giving a half-hearted, humanly “moo”.