Happiness

By Ellen Bass

Featured art: Indian Mother with Her Child by Adam Clark Vroman

I had a student once who was so depressed

she wanted to die. She was a young single mother,

lonely, poor, watching other girls

go to parties and bars while she was home

cutting the crusts off peanut butter sandwiches,

reading The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream.

Then she collapsed with heart disease

and spent the next few years waiting for a transplant.

The strange thing is, now she was happy.

Every day, almost every breath, was semi-ecstatic.

She was a modern-day Chicana Rumi,

hanging out with the Beloved, grateful just to touch His hem. I

find I’m telling myself all the time now,

look how you lift one foot and then the other, all

the nerves and synapses firing together.

Look how you reach for a carton of blueberries

and eat each dusky globe, one by one.

Look at the spotted dog tied to the newsstand,

drops of saliva sliding off his tongue,

and the cracked Bic lighter in the gutter

shining a watery turquoise blue.

Even when your heart is a used teabag

you can lie down in a warm bed,

even though you cry half the night

with the window open a little

to let in the stars.


Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent book is Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Her poems appear frequently in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and many other journals. She coedited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks!, and cowrote The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. She teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University.

Website: http://www.ellenbass.com

Twitter: @PoetEllenBass

Instagram: @poetellenbass

Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011

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