A woman in the coffee shop sitting at the table next to mine
says to her friend, Tell me about a time when you were happy,
truly happy. I stare at newsprint
straining to hear her friend’s response:
not forthcoming and I’m not surprised—
the query too intimate, the response too complex,
to regurgitate on cue while masticating a bagel.
But I’m sitting alone, swimming through bad news
all black and white, and have no excuse.
So I retrieve the marked files: marriage, births of children,
sloppy-tongued puppy with a bow around its neck
running into my arms when I was eight years old.
To no avail—these days such memories feel more like
digits in a sum than highlights of a life.
I’m beginning to feel bad about my failure to recall happy
when the woman’s friend throws me a bone:
When all the pieces fit, she says softly but firmly,
nothing stands in relief.
I smile and take a bite of bagel,
recalling, for every good reason,
the clematis on the trellis outside my bedroom window,
how it grows a couple of inches overnight this time of year,
the waving fronds of the Japanese iris cheering it on.
Sheer exultation on those full moon nights
I sleep right through.