Poem Therapy 3:25 February 22, 2012: Poem - Rachel Zucker

Rachel Zucker

The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don't, and see what happens.

That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.

In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I'm not—

all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine

if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn't about happiness it's about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how

to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,

and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad

and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I've got
rachel Zucker here, she's happy,

I'll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before

we'd read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr's
poem about crying while driving while listening to

the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to

news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward

Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
"I don't believe in happiness"—you're such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.

Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly

there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I've never seen.

And that's when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn't about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped

her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a coldd
but otherwise was and that's when he said,

next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don't, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian's sixth birthday, Deborah went

to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other

unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I've never seen. That was last week and now
I'm here, in bed, turning toward something I haven't felt

for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled

the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say

how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.

she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to
news about the war

Children are many times the only witness to their mother's tears. I remember crying in the car over the war, my daughter strapped in the backseat in her carseat, and then later again strapped into her seatbelt directly behind me, and even later, in the passenger's seat up front. She got used to me wiping away tears as we listened to the news of yet another country's conflagration.

Which war? I'm not certain anymore. There's a new one for each year. There's always a war waging, somewhere.

Now that the U.S. is out of Iraq, it feels like a lot of politicians want to jump right back into another frying pan. Listening to all the talking heads, and knowing that they, nor anyone they know will have to actually serve and fight, they seem like the kind of aggressive Internet commenters that leave spiteful messages not even their former junior high selves would have ever uttered, knowing full well that they can, that there won't be any real time consequences, because it's easy writing behind the anonymity of ilikeyellow@whatever.com.

I've read that war and violence is on the decline.

Does that mean happiness is on the upswing? And what is happiness? For me it's something I'm enthusiastic about doing. It's a wish without longing attached.

What is happiness for you?

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