Happy by Laura Lee Washburn

Happy showed up late in the 19th centurypubphoto

like another version of the burden of slim bodies

or mother as the keeper of the hearth

or father as the strong man replete with ax

and barbells shaped like, well, bells. Bells

were for happy, too, the jester, jerk, dwarf,

fool. Now happy makes you mad

because you’re filled up with some chemical

to keep your cough down or your sleep

in check. You think you remember happy

and you think your neighbor’s got happy

and your neighbor’s smiling, but you

know smiles are the worst sort of darkness,

teeth you can fall a mile into, like kissing

and the tongues that throw germs

up into your palate until you’re gasping

for breaths and even phone calls are a chore,

but on the phone no smile’s required.

The bus driver pulled over and stopped

and said a lot of words about everyone

settling down RIGHT NOW, and you, you

young lady, why are you smiling, what

do you think is so funny? Happy wasn’t around,

and you didn’t even know you were.

We need a new word for not afraid, for not

worried to death, for not fighting,

for worried but hanging in there, for

my hair’s clean and the dog didn’t pee

on the floor and the refrigerator’s full

and I might steam some broccoli later,

for I can move, and for all I care

the past can go fuck itself and fuck happy, too

~ Laura Lee Washburn

Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University, Laura Lee Washburn, is an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press, and the author of  This Good Warm Place (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize).  Her poetry has appeared in Carolina Quarterly, Valparaiso Review, The Sun, The Journal, and elsewhere.  Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has lived in Pittsburg since 1997.  She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.


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