In the Hot Tub With My Wife, Waiting for the Vet to Call
Only after, in the tea-colored garden water, turning amber
and nearly gold from the cedar planks,
once he was safe, did we begin to understand.
Our Honeybear had been in the ICU all night.
We didn’t know if something was wrong inside him:
he’d swallowed five pieces of that neon green chew toy that looked
honestly like a dildo, then puked and lay listlessly,
the brightness in his eyes shuttered. As we waited for the doctor,
R described him as the biggest surprise of her life, called him
our kid— how baffling, how beautiful to be 40 years old and not know
how your heart can become larger. When we heard yes
he would be okay, we climbed naked into the hot tub, descending
into the crisply cold wooded water, and above us the tree
with the crinkly white flowers dropped them and dropped them, while R
put her mouth around my nipples and her fingers inside
me and the day was light, the lightness of a fear releasing,
but it was also heavy: heavy like honey, the way when you are alone, you can go
anywhere you want, just get on a plane, and when you are two, it might not
be so easy, you have to see if the other one can go, or if the other one
wants to, and then it was three of us, my wife and myself and the dog’s
soft self, held together, held to one spot on the earth at a time.
Sometimes poems come as gifts, as floods in the immediacy of what sparked them: I wrote the first iteration of “In the Hot Tub With My Wife, Waiting for the Vet to Call” with grass and mud still on the soles of my feet, having dashed out of the hot tub to write. This happens for me when language and an emotion double over into each other. That summer day, my wife and I had filled the hot tub with cold hose water, and it had turned amber from the cedar planks. We had just learned that our dog, Honeybear, who had swallowed a formidable chew toy, was going to be okay. The honey-colored water, skimmed with flowers; the honey-feeling of bodies and touch; the tenderness, the ache, the sweet sharp spoonings of relief; that quality of a moment turned to the light and held still in resin; and the fact that dog was literally named Honeybear: well, the poem broke open at that nexus.
My initial impulse for the syntax of the poem was very long sentences, folded over many lines. Initially, the entire poem had such long sentences the whole way through. In revision, I remembered that a poem is a system of contrasts (thank you for our poem-switching conversations about this, Megan Pinto!). To this end, I used shorter sentences in the first half of the poem and then I built up to a breathlessly long sentence to close the poem. The first half of the poem describes the scene, but thereby also gestures at the feeling that will build later (“tea-colored garden water, turning amber/ and nearly gold”) and the plot (Honeybear has been in the ICU, and my wife Rose has described her astonishment at how she feels about him). That description of feeling accordions open the poem, first by slowing it down, with a solo line in the middle of the poem (rather than couplets), and then a burst into a sentence that crosses 11 lines. I meant this poem as a love poem, for my dog, for my wife, for my growing family (how could I have known we would be expecting a son just months later)! How viscous, the sentence that carries our lives, if we are lucky. That honey is light and heavy at once. How light and how heavy to love!