What hard work it is
pretending to be happy
at the birthday party
when there is so much
gaiety and laughter
floating in the air beneath
the colorful balloons.
Your smile is without joy
and you hope that your
stomach will kill those
that are without beauty
or wings that you could
grab hold of to fly away.
The meeting was off to a start so good
there were homemade cookies
and bottled lemonade iced down in a cooler.
The knitters guild gathered in the cliché
of a church basement dimly lit.
The colorful skeins strained to show off
their true colors as they were added
stitch and purl to the scarf or hat or sock.
A scheduled interruption came in the form
of an art council member hoping for help
in yarn bombing the downtown square
with wraps for the trees and the light posts
which would be sure to activate a love
for arts and culture and enrich the experience
of shopping local, and everyone nodded
with excitement except one woman who
spoke up with indignation so self-righteous
it sprayed hot oil on the helium balloons
beginning to imagine what they could have
been part of if it weren’t for the poor
children below in such great need of things
like scarves and hats and socks that were
made each week by this generous group
who now knew which one of them was
morally superior, and none of them seemed
capable or brave enough to disagree with her
though each of them felt a prick of bitterness
working its way into the needles and yarn.
Dearest son—fifteen years is how old I was
when my mother felt too awkward
to share with me the details of our nature.
Words like desire and sex
occupied a vocabulary incompatible
with her hopes for me.
She must have thought that speaking of love
and reputation would be enough
to exempt me from the cravings that exist
long before a marriage, or the kind of union
so holy it could deliver heaven
to the sanctuary of an ordinary bedroom.
I will not tell you to wait for your perfect one—
that she is out there waiting in your future.
I want you to refuse the lie that there is only one body
created to match the contours of yours.
Reject the myth that experience will diminish
your capacity to commit when you are ready.
Let your imagination roam unrestricted in the night.
There is no one judging your fantasies—
which are the purest way to navigate this course
that leads you toward the mysteries of women.
Remember that generosity begets generosity,
and that tenderness is a key which open doors
that have been closed by anger or confusion.
Consent is the rule above all rules,
and next is careful planning.
Babies are for adults who are ready to step away
from the center of the universe and create a new one—
you, my son, are the center of mine,
and to prepare you with these truths
is my duty and my joy.
Remember that love is a privilege never deserved.
It owes us nothing, which is what we are entitled to.
Don’t expect your first love to be your last.
Do not expect the duration of your longest love
to be uninterrupted by boredom or temptation
or the wish to taste the fruit in other orchards.
This is the terrible beauty that sustains us.
Here is the truth that I wish I’d been prepared for:
The full grown heart has many rooms—
and some will conceal passions that are equal
yet opposite to the love that sleeps beside you
in your large monogamous bed.
Some mothers keep it all—
Every little thing the lost child
loved or touched or made.
I wasn’t such a mother.
I wanted only a few keepsakes—
made more precious by the value
he had given them.
His favorite thing was my favorite thing—
which was one of his earliest drawings
he called “Happy Guy”—
a big blue head with a tiny blue body
that made us howl every time
he pulled it from the scrapbook.
Some perfect combination
of cartoon eyes and a wild open grin
turned us upside down.
He used to sneak up behind me
when I was at the sink or at my desk
and shove it between me and my task
and we would squeeze each other
while we laughed.
And now I only think about the box
in the closet which contains it.
I know where it is if I need it.
The image hasn’t changed,
but my reaction is somewhat altered.
Everything now is so much altered.
don’t give it to me.
Do not give it to me.
Even though I want it.
I want to want it—
whatever it is
don’t let me have it
ruin it —
just let me sit here with it
out of reach—
my heart singing
and longing for it—
this thing I want.
This wanting is so pure
so full of pleasures
it could not be improved
or made perfect by
is not what I want—
what I want
is to want.
There is nothing
that could satisfy me
each of you, listen.
I love you all.
All three of you,
who have aroused in me
and independent love—
three different loves
all rooted in the womb
of blood and warmth.
How many days
have we buried
in the soil of years?
Can you see
how much good has grown
even when the weeds
were going wild?
Remember how sure
that everything wrong
was mine to make right?
Remember how much
each of you hated me
to accept your burdens?
How proud I am
that you carried them
so far away
with a strength and will
you didn’t know you had—
proving to yourselves
and to each other
that we could
spread our fruits
on the table
and agree to share
the cutting board
and the knife.
For some of you
the ache in your body
has nothing to do with youth
which is what you’ll be told
when you’re found on the edge of your bed
like an aborted love letter
crumpled into a ball.
This is the seed of your happiness.
This is the beginning
of your comprehension.
For years you will seek an eternal fire—
believe in its constant warmth
until you are born
into the second half of your life
and you accept with sudden enlightenment
that every passion will expire—
that the beautiful fiction inside your mind
is as brilliant in the dreams of your lover.
This is when some of you begin to forgive
the intermittent ache in your body—
the one you have always welcomed,
but have so often mistaken
as a flaw in the center of your happiness.
For some of you,
this edge is where you belong—
where you’ll build your final home,
balanced between two intimate choices.
And without stepping through them,
you will lean on the gates of gardens
that belong to others,
where you will allow a shallow joy to bloom
from each of your innocuous daydreams
and always again.