Tuesday

Jun. 15, 2004

Happiness

by Michael Van Walleghen

TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2004
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Poem: "Happiness," by Michael Van Walleghen, from In the Black Window: New and Selected Poems. © University of Illinois Press.

Happiness

Weep for what little things could make them glad.
—Robert Frost, "Directive"

Melvin,
     the large collie
who lives in the red house
at the end of my daily run
is happy,
     happy to see me
even now,
     in February—
a month of low skies
and slowly melting snow.

His yard
     has turned almost
entirely to mud—
          but so what?

Today,
     as if to please me,
he has torn apart
          and scattered
everywhere
     a yellow plastic bucket
the color of forsythia
or daffodils . . .

          And now,
in a transport
          of cross-eyed
muddy ecstasy,
          he has placed
his filthy two front paws
together
     on the top pipe
of his sagging cyclone fence—

drooling a little,
          his tail
wagging furiously,
          until finally,
as if I were God's angel himself—

fulgent,
     blinding,
          aflame
with news of the Resurrection,
I give him a biscuit
          instead.

Which is fine with Melvin—
who is wise,
     by whole epochs
of evolution,
     beyond his years.

Take
     what you can get,
that's his motto . . .

          And really,
apropos of bliss,
          happiness
and the true rapture,
          what saint
could tell us half as much?

Even as he drops
          back down
into the cold
          dog-shit muck
he'll have to live in
          every day
for weeks on end perhaps
unless it freezes . . .

whining now,
      dancing
nervously
     as I turn away
again,
     to leave him there

the same today
          as yesterday—

one of the truly wretched
of this earth
     whose happiness
is almost more
          than I can bear.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, born in Kashiwabara, Japan (1763). He's one of the masters of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku, which uses seventeen Japanese characters broken into three distinct units. He spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples. By the end of his life he had written over 20,000 haiku celebrating the small wonders of everyday life.

Kobayashi wrote several haiku about summer. Here are two:

"The summer night
so brief, so brief!"
people and blossoms agree

home village—
my summer grove is small
but it's mine!
It's the birthday of psychologist Erik Erikson, born in Frankfurt, Germany (1902). He argued that the human life cycle could be understood as a series of eight developmental stages. He said each stage has its own "crisis" that must be overcome before moving on to the next stage. For adolescents, the crisis is figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life—and that's where the term "identity crisis" comes from.

Erikson said, "There is, in every child, at every moment, a miracle unfolding."


It's the birthday of science writer Dava Sobel, born in New York City (1947). Her mother was trained as a chemist and her father was a doctor, and she started out as a science writer for IBM. She began freelancing, and eventually got a job writing about science for the New York Times.
Her big breakthrough came in 1996, when she published Longitude, which tells how the eighteenth-century scientist and clockmaker William Harrison solved the problem of determining east-west location at sea. Sobel barely had enough money to finish the research for the book, and only 10,000 copies were printed on the first run, but Longitude became a surprise bestseller in America and England.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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