More Onerous Than The Rites of Beauty

linda-pastan
Linda Paston b. 1932

“It is all around us, free, this wonderful life: clear jingle of tire chains, the laughter of ice that breaks under our boots. Each hour’s a gift to those who take it up.” 

― Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book

The Obligation To Be Happy

by Linda Paston

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.


I have the annoying habit of being in a good mood in the morning when I get up, annoying at least to those that enjoy a bit of melancholy and gloom with their first cup of coffee. I realize that there is little difference between the two breakfast visages, each its own armor to the start of the day and separated in humor by less than the width of smile.

The harder acceptance for me is the realization that for some people happiness is a burden they would prefer to not carry around with them. Happiness is something uncomfortable to them, an infrequent, temporary visitor that stays only awkwardly for a quick spot of tea and then makes a tepid excuse for why it needs to hurry off again. Linda Paston’s poem provides genuine insight into something foreign to my nature, not quite full blown depression but melancholy.

I heard this week a perky scientist explaining on NPR they have isolated a hormonal response in mice which prevents them from going into depression under stress. It sounds like a such a wonderful idea, particularly to people like myself that struggle to understand the true nature of depression having never experienced it.  But what do we lose as a species if we fail to feel the full range of emotions?  Depression that results in suicide is a mental state to be avoided and can be medically addressed, but grief, the blues, sadness and meloncholy are not fatal conditions and a normal spectrum of the human condition.  Next time someone is sad in your midst, hesitate before you tell them to “cheer up.”  Linda Paston’s poem a potent reminder that we all experience life differently and one person’s blues maybe another person’s way to live fully in their skin.


After Years

by Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

 

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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