(Community Matters) I’m inclined to repost a piece Steven wrote for our friend Robert Matney. It’s created a crosscountry bond between them and Sonya Cohen Cramer who published the piece in a special woodcut edition.
Viola (for Matney)
©2013 Steven Tomlinson
People ask, “How are you?” and I wonder:
What do you want to know? What can you handle?
What’s honest? What’s safe? What’s kind?
Ask Viola, and she says: YOU, HERE, NOW, LOVE, LICK, LICK, LOVE.
Of course, she oversimplifies. [She’s a dog.]
When I came home from the hospital, I thought I’d feel less helplessly dependent if I found something that depended on me. Isn’t that why people get dogs?
Viola says YES AND… YOU. HERE. NOW. LOVE. LICK. YOU. LOVE.
She knows no boundaries, no decorum, only joy effervescent, slathering sloppy kisses on my face, my sutures.
I ask: Viola, where does this come from?
Whence this mysterious annoyance of unconditionality?
And she cocks her head and reflects me in her eyes and wags her tail as if that were the answer.
And goddammit if she didn’t get parvo.
I find her curled up on the kitchen floor, fur matted with bloody diarrhea.
OUCH. HURTS. OUCH. YOU. LOVE. HURTS.
And I say: Shit, Viola. You can’t leave me. Goddammit, I don’t need this.
And in the waiting room, the vet strokes her tenderly and says,
“We have to put her in quarantine now.”
“What does that mean?”
“Sir, only one puppy in ten gets out. Even if we stop the virus, there’s the confinement. Dogs get lonely. They lose heart.”
“What can I do?”
“You can tell her you love her. You can tell her goodbye.”
I’d be more optimistic if I weren’t so good at math. If I were better at lying, I wouldn’t need to be such a good actor.
Viola, I love you, you know that.
LOVE. OUCH. LOVE YOU.
Remember that. I’m right here.
YOU. HERE. LOVE.
And it’s not like there’s much left to say to someone who’s been licking you all over for weeks. And she says something hard to understand: LOVEYOUGOODBYEMAYBE — and flashes me in her eyes and wags her tail. LOVEYOUGOODBYEMAYBE.
No. No, you’re strong. You’re special. You can’t go — remember I’m here.
And I’m crying, as if more of my neediness does any good.
And Viola says: NOW. YOU. HERE. LOVEYOUGOODBYEMAYBE. TIME? [NO.] NOW. YOU. HERE.
She knows Heidegger. She’s practiced.
I cover her face with kisses and give her to the vet and drive home trying to fathom a dog’s memory, the mercy of the eternal present. With any luck, she’s already forgotten.
But I will spend the rest of my life unpacking that gift.
And for the next two days, sharp bursts like arrows shoot upwards from my heart.
And the vet calls. “You need to come down here.”
“She’s OK. She’s going to be OK. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
And at his office, I find Viola, whole and stupidly happy, squirming in her bed, licking my tears.
“We’ve never seen anything like it. Her tail never stopped wagging.”
I say: You did it, Viola. You made it. Thank you. Thank you.
And she says: YOU. HERE. NOW. GO? [NO.] YOU. HERE. LICK. LICK. LOVE.
You can’t know how much love there is in the world until you need it all.
I just want things to get back to normal. But what is normal after you know.
So Viola and I lie on the couch, and I scratch her ears and say: I love you.
And she says: LOVEYOUGOODBYEMAYBE.
And I say: No. No goodbye. Just love.
And she cocks her head and wags her tail patiently as if to say: It is one word for us, these thoughts, together, always. You make two words? Weird. Funny.
So that’s how I am.
See yourself in my eyes.
If I had a tail, I would wag it.