Poem of the Month for February 2020
There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep mid-afternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket-maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
— Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)
From The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices From the Robert Frost Place. CavanKerry Press.
Happiness is often elusive. Happiness is more subtle than joy, and for many of us, less easy to define or express than unhappiness.
You'll notice from the dates by her name that the poet died rather young. Kenyon was married to the poet Donald Hall, who was nearly twenty years older than her. It was a happy marriage, then Hall had a hard bout with colon and liver cancer. His chances of survival were one in three. While this was going on, Kenyon developed leukemia and died. Hall survived another twenty-three years.
Jane Kenyon published four volumes of poetry during her lifetime and translated a collection of the poems of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Kenyon was New Hampshire's poet laureate when she died on April 22, 1995.
James Lee Jobe
Poet Laureate, City of Davis