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Meals of Grief and Happiness

April 15, 2021

Last weekend I went to a restaurant. We were going to sit outside but it’s April in Ohio so of course it rained. We were meeting some (also vaccinated) friends in a city an hour away from home, so we took the chance and went inside. It was late afternoon, the time we often used to meet at this restaurant, before it could get too crowded. Almost everything was different—the menu was very limited and printed on paper, and the tables were farther away from each other than they had been. We heard echoes of the old careless days with piped-in muzak substituting for the noise of other peoples’ conversations.

I thought of those echoes when I read Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poem “Meals of Grief and Happiness”:

1
I believe in the tears of an elephant.
How they stamp the ground
and forget they are in musth—
panting—and cinnamon shrubs
or piles of sugarcane can’t tempt
them to stop their cycle of grief.
I believe in the broken heart
of an elephant. When a companion
dies, I believe in the rocking back
and forth, the dry pebbly tongue.
I believe in wanting to wear only
dust, hear only dust, taste only dust.
I believe in wanting to touch nothing
and wanting nothing to touch you.

2
I believe in the tail wag of a dog.
The toothy grin of an apple-fed horse,
the shine from the wet in the eyes
wild with joy. I like the movements
in a chimp’s fine fur as he swings
from branch to rubber tire and thumps
his companion on the head with a bright-red ball.
I believe in the single sugar cube sparkling
on a small ceramic dish as we sit at a café—
me sipping a soda with a paper straw,
you leaning in close to point to something
that neither of us have ever tried—but we will today.
The waiter will say Good, good choice, my favorite,
as he gathers up the vinyl menus and leaves us.

Remember vinyl menus? And leaning in close? I love the contrast between the two parts and how the second part conveys joy so well. Sometimes it’s harder to convey joy.

What has brought you joy lately?

Tristan and Pippin have been finding joy in the weather and their new chair cushion.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2021 11:51 am

    For me, it’s the warmer weather, both of us being fully vaccinated now and seeing the possibilities of laying actual eyes on my children and grandchildren. It’s tempered by watching the slow decline of my folks from far away.

    • April 15, 2021 4:22 pm

      Eyes and arms, I’ll bet! The warmer weather also brings me joy.
      And yes, joy is so often tempered by other emotions being felt at the same time. There’s a word for that, I think, and it has to do with the ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms.

  2. Margaret permalink
    April 15, 2021 12:50 pm

    The Texas Shakespeare Festival announced their season for this summer! (With mask requirements and reduced audience sizes) Looking forward to live theatre again.

    • April 15, 2021 4:40 pm

      OH YES!!! I worry a little about reduced audience sizes, but you know what my brother says about worry.

  3. April 15, 2021 2:37 pm

    Cat pictures, please 😀
    This weekend, I visited my kittens at the breeder. Both Maine-Coones will be with me in only four weeks. Here’s Kiera: https://image.jimcdn.com/app/cms/image/transf/dimension=460×10000:format=jpg/path/s6c2cdd822e9554d9/image/i5ff34013fa00d9be/version/1616364593/image.jpg

  4. April 15, 2021 4:57 pm

    Oh Aimee Nezhukumatathil, I’ve read two of her books. I like her poetry and I can’t spell her name let alone pronounce it! Bringing me joy of late has been the birds singing so enthusiastically in the mornings when I set off on my bike to work. Best sound track ever 🙂

    • April 19, 2021 11:47 am

      I agree; I was just saying to Ron that it’s nice to live in a place where you can sleep with the windows open and the worst problem you have is that the choir of birds in the woods out back is so noisy they wake you up in the morning. (Of course, the night after I said that there was some kind of big groundhog or raccoon fight right outside our bedroom window around 2-3 am.)

  5. April 19, 2021 2:17 pm

    Cat pictures always bring me joy. 🙂

    Sitting in my backyard, puttering in my flower beds and garden, watching the birds and bunnies, all of this brings me joy. I never knew how much I love my backyard until last Spring when I was forced to be in it every day under quarantine.

    Also I had dinner (outside) with some friends Friday for the first time since last fall and that was wonderful.

    • April 19, 2021 2:48 pm

      Those things bring me joy too–cat pictures, backyard wildlife, dinner with friends. We have two local friends who were vaccinated with us and they’ve been coming over to have dinner and play a card game we like called Rage for the last two weekends!

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