The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.
That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.
In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I’m not—
all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine
if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn’t about happiness it’s about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how
to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,
and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad
and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I’ve got
Rachel Zucker here, she’s happy,
I’ll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before
we’d read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr’s
poem about crying while driving while listening to
the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to
news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward
Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
“I don’t believe in happiness”—you’re such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.
Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly
there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I’ve never seen.
And that’s when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn’t about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped
her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a cold
but otherwise was and that’s when he said,
next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don’t, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian’s sixth birthday, Deborah went
to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other
unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I’ve never seen. That was last week and now
I’m here, in bed, turning toward something I haven’t felt
for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled
the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say
how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.
– Rachel Zucker
“Poem" from Museum of Accidents (Wave Books). Originally in Columbia Poetry Review.