by Rachel Zucker
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.