Family / Kids

Why doesn’t anyone write happy poems?



In Northern California this year, November has missed her stage cue. Seventy degree days and no rain in sight. So yes, the leaves on the trees that border this park have flamed up red, but in the distance, the hills, pocked with dusty oaks, remain scrub brown.

Out on the soccer field, my mom sails a Frisbee to B-Man. My dad throws a baseball with K-Bird. The arc of blue sky above them holds the scene precious, a porcelain egg cupped in careful hands.

In every Introduction to Poetry Class I’ve ever taught, someone has asked the question, “Why doesn’t anyone write happy poems?” Always I answer the same way, “Because a happy poem rings false. We don’t experience joy without remembering, on some level, our experiences of pain.”

Just as shadow gives light its shape, our happy moments are defined by our sad ones. We know joy because we’ve known sadness and vice versa.

In the shadow of the gorgeous weather that brought us to this park today stands drought. Tinder, the dry landscape whispers. All it takes is one spark.

In the shadow of my parents, sixty-nine and seventy years old, playing with my kids, seven and nine years old, stands time. If our clocks tick in the expected fashion, someday my kids won’t be interested in playing catch with their elders. Someday their elders won’t be here at all.

Why ruin a perfect day at the park, ruminating on its shadows?

Recently, my friend Jennifer posted this on Facebook: “Life, for me, seems to be working out to be equal parts pleasure and pain. So, when I caught myself feeling happy a little while ago, a sense of dread was not far behind. Is this feeling familiar to anyone?”

I commented, “I think it might be called adulthood.” But later I thought, “Don’t worry. That’s just life reminding you that everything is temporary.”

This awareness of the temporary nature of life – I can experience it as dread or I can experience it as a reminder to appreciate the hell out of this moment as it unfolds in front of me right now.

Just look at those crimson leaves holding their impossible hue. Just listen to that sound of laughter, brilliant notes riding toward me along the afternoon breeze.


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