May 18, 2020

Amy Miller

HIGHER LOVE

At the emergency animal clinic, I’m standing
in the bathroom thinking the crying room
big and softly lit, a plant in a corner, the walls
airbrushed in grays and browns. The only place
in the building you can be alone. I remember
meeting a woman one night in this clinic waiting
for her Collie, injury treated, disaster over,
big bill paid. She told me she’d lost count
of how many times she’d been there over the years.
This is the first one I’ve brought home alive.

It’s the 4th of July weekend and hell’s broken loose
out there, the stories I heard in the lobby—bitten
by another dog, hit by a car, ate a box of candy,
foaming at the mouth from some new med.
My own cat 16 years old and stricken down
so suddenly that all he could do was lie
like a fallen tree and watch me though the vents
in the carrier all during the half-hour drive.

The stay is two days, the bill two pages long,
and now I’m standing here in the bathroom thinking
of people crying, though they say I can bring him
home tomorrow, just one more night of fluids
under the futuristic hoses and wires and dark-faced
monitors, his orange body blanketed in a warm balloon
of air while the vet tech types numbers on a pad,
a distant dog shrieking, a sound I can still hear,
that carries through God knows how many walls.
I wash my hands and push through the door

into the lobby and hold it open because a woman
is running toward me, her face swollen as a bee sting,
wet, her shoulders convulsing, a sound drowning
in her mouth. She rushes past, and I don’t dare
look, but I can see everyone—the lobby full, couples
and singles and families, some waiting with a dog
or a cat, some sitting alone with their phones and Cokes
from the machine, maybe fifteen people, every one
looking at her, and—reader, you have to see this—
every one with a face full of love and complete
recognition. No judgment, irony, glad-it’s-not-me,
a whole room of understanding while she pulls
the door shut and latches it to cry for the baby

that I now see—I remember this man from earlier,
how she sat with him in the waiting room when I did—
and in his arms he carries a small body, terrier-size,
wrapped tight in a blue blanket head to foot,
motionless as he bears it through the front door
into the parking lot. I follow him out,
but I can’t see any more—how gently he lays it
on the back seat, I’m guessing—because I’m
getting in my own car, eyes down, letting him
have his peace alone. To intrude, to help—
it just isn’t done, or I don’t know how, and neither

did anyone back there, though we all know exactly
how high that love goes, most of us with no kids
or ones that are grown, most of us lying in bed at night
with a dog or cat snoring softly in the half-light,
the not quite deep-death night but the still-living kind
that makes us want to stay awake an hour longer,
the air outside alive with tires on the road and those crickets
that only started up a week ago and now sound like
they’ll keep singing that aria forever, even when
we all know sooner or later it will have to end.

from Rattle #67, Spring 2020
Students of Kim Addonizio

__________

Amy Miller: “I was in Kim Addonizio’s private workshop for about a year. This was in 2001, and I took several of her multi-week courses. Kim was a fair-minded but tough critiquer; she had a way of cutting right to what she called the heart of the poem, the thing that gave it life, and pointing out lines that dulled that heart’s impetus or drifted too far away from it. Her toughness, more than anything, had a lasting effect on my writing. I learned to revise brutally, to sift through workshop comments just as dispassionately, and to stick up for a poem when its unique voice or vision was getting lost in the rewrite. Her workshop was a sort of crucible, a hot forge that made me stronger as a writer, a better judge of my work and others’, and I think it’s very hard to keep going as a writer without that kind of toughness. I know I just said ‘tough’ about five times. I loved that about Kim.” (web)

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