A better year than most, give
or take, though the world is filled
with so much light it seems
alien: vegetation bluish and hearty,
a landscape with too much sun.
On a Tuesday night in spring
I call my mother—not exactly
I think I might be happy.
My aunt and uncle tell jokes in the best way possible—
laughing so hard they can’t finish them.
They’ve spent 65 years setting
a common table, praying a common prayer.
My uncle sweeps the kitchen twice a day.
My aunt folds clothes when my uncle annoys her.
The cake she offers me before dinner is the cake
their daughter once made.
She says, Enjoy it.
My uncle will hand you a smoked turkey
as you leave for the airport. His masterwork, that barbecue.
This abundance produced three children. The first
when they were just 15.
One they lost to a blood clot. One to cancer.
The last to prison, irrevocably.
Sometimes my auntie and uncle sit each to a room. Bodies
still, unable to speak.
When we got married, my aunt says, we decided then to be happy.
Mania comes dressed as happiness
in gunmetal sequins.
Is she happy today? Or is she manic?
Me at 16, trying on a prom dress
much too expensive for us.
I mistake myself for a stranger
in the far mirror.
She looks like some kind of sick.
My most beautiful friend takes self-portraits for catalogs
Her curls shine with good genes, quality coconut oil, the absorbing
daily labors of Black hair.
Her climbing muscles pop from her cross-back tank
as she suspends herself from cliffs. The California dust
a rouge on her cheek.
In every single portrait without fail, she laughs
uproariously. Something silent, irrepressible.
I can’t look.
Her head always thrown back. Every tooth out as if poised to bite.
There were minutes in the afternoons, insufficient ones,
when my mother would hide in her bathroom
while my brothers and I shrieked and played outside.
Her three babies. The ones who had lived.
She told my grandmother on the phone,
Sometimes—they’re just too happy.
She’d spent her whole life making herself a mother.
The house she grew up in she called hell house.
My mother painting yellow tulips again
and again and again on a scrap
of watercolor paper.
When asked, she gives the study to me.
Baffled, amused, granting a gift
she doesn’t quite understand.
My new rubric.
On the back I find she has scribbled: Happy Spring!
I ask a brother—a particular type of brother—
How are you today, Sir?
He is a pastor and a very fine
both of which afford him a certain deference.
He smiles at me, nothing held in reserve,
no joy socked away to himself
and says, Happy and well.
And goddamn he means it.
What must it feel like to mean it?
I think, If he asked me this minute,
I would marry this man.
He says it again.
I feel myself thrown forward,
as if sitting the wrong way on a departing train,
as if riding his open heart from the shadow of the station.