It can be done. We can capture the rapture of happiness, bring it home, feed it, love it like a stray animal till it’s named and tamed. Try this—think of the soul as a butterfly net, feel the wild flutterings within. When pregnant some seventeen years ago, my son’s first movements felt like a dancing butterfly, my womb, a cocoon.
These days, happiness is my only forecast. I practice it with the same fidelity I devote to my art. I’m perpetuating spring, harvesting spring, bearing spring even though winter is not yet over and here, in Southeastern Maine, spring is fickle, flighty, here again, gone again till summer rushes in with its dressy breezes.
I came across some lines the other day in a long forgotten poem of mine. In it I assert that I write like a dancer who’s better at falling than leaping. Debilitated by serious illness for a solid decade, I did fall, I fell often, first in seizures, then in bouts of madness. I realized, in an instant, that the deeper the fall, the higher the leap. Fall down ten times, get up eleven was the law I lived by.
This has taught me range. For far too long a time, I struck all the low notes, the minor keys, the bottom notes, but now I’m hitting the trills, the grace notes, running up the scale into the callings of crescendos rather than going down into the despair of decrescendo. I’m light on my feet—both my dancing feet and iambic ones.
Well into my middle years, I’m growing younger day by day. One friend noted that my brow is no longer deeply furrowed and there’s a spring in my step, a spring in my poems. I lay out for them the way my son does for the Frisbee during a game or tournament. He soars for the disc, defies gravity, and is totally, totally in the moment. That happens while I’m writing, the world disappears and fertile words, earthy, herbal words move from compost into composition.
My happiness is not just manifesting in my work. It has many chapters recorded in the illuminated manuscript I’m now scripting, minute by minute. I always loved Pinsky’s title for his anthology, brought out some years ago, called The Handbook of Heartbreak. It is no longer my guidebook and my want bone, another Pinsky creation, has turned into wishbone.
Myriad forms of happiness then—in the work, in my seaside community of what I call the Amazing People, in the beautiful environs I live in. Darkness, darkness everywhere has transformed into light, light everywhere with plenty of it to drink. In this land of light and water, the hard shard in my heart has softened, shape-shifted. The only thing I’m burdened with is the bird of my being and o my God does she love to sing.
Outside my kitchen window is a hand painted bird box, meant as ornament, but just yesterday, a pair of sparrows are making a nest there and that’s what I’m doing, lining my nest with strands of happiness. There’s also some daffodil shoots pushing up from hard soil and gravel, a seemingly impossible feat, but I’m doing the same and maybe, just maybe, I’ll produce a bloom or two.
A great blue heron has alighted in the eel grass down at the water’s edge. She has mastered the stillness in the dancing, and in the hierarchy of poets, she is the supreme mistress. May I follow her example, leave behind dirge and lamentation, fly right into my irreducible, inimitable song.
I have a friend who died a year ago, far before his time, and in the card his wife, now widow, sent to me are these words by Abraham Lincoln: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” May we all live it up, really live it up, as though our very lives depended upon it, which of course they do.
Read Elizabeth Kirschner’s interview about poetry as healing: http://healmyptsd.com/