The Happiest Day by Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
Perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

The Happiest Day

Well, it’s late May but the scent of lilacs and other flowering trees is much more than a promise. Our parents, the house/s we grew up in, our children – all this such a part of our everyday lives that we rarely stop to consider if we were happy, focusing instead on the small irritations that are like salt on melon even though they simply made the fruit taste sweeter. Now there is a memorable, sensory image – can you taste it?

The news of the day, the bottomless litany of strikes, wars, fires and now of course, covid-related stories, can keep us fully occupied. And yet, if someone could only stop the camera / and ask me: are you happy? How often do we ask ourselves that? Would you notice how the morning shone in the reflected / color of lilac? Would that not be a definition of happiness itself?

After reading this poem yesterday, I noticed a sensation, difficult to describe even to myself, that was certainly contentment, an ephemeral burst of happiness. This is how happiness is – fleeting, transitory, yet real. Would I have noticed it if not for the question? I believe it is there more often than not if I simply turn my attention toward the color of lilacs, the song of the mating cardinals, the children playing on the street.

Are you happy? May I offer you a steaming cup of coffee?

16 thoughts on “The Happiest Day by Linda Pastan

  1. Absolutely you can, Jan! What a lovely happy thought to sit with you on some quiet porch sniffing lilacs. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that happiness for me is usually elsewhere. Not here in Missouri, for instance, but in Ottawa with Jan. Truth is the salt on the melon this morning, the nagging sense of uncertainty about what is coming, is held along with the sweetness of this soft May rain, the quiet, heavy air, no place to run off to. Just here, the rain, this poem, a loved friend. Thank you.

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    • Oh yes dear Wendy, to sit with you on a porch with our coffee, in rain or sun, lilacs drenching us with their scent – the salt, the sweetness, it’s all there for us. love to you my friend

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  2. Thank you Jan. Another one for my collection. And,, for the question. “Would I have noticed it if not for the question?”

    I love your posts.

    Enjoy your day. Margaret 613-725-6941 h 613-795-9879 c

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

    – Oscar Wilde.

    >

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  3. We just returned from a walk – hoping to take advantage of the the early morning cooler air before the heat descended – which it has. We pass a bounty of lilacs overlooking the Ottawa River and the scent is so, so sweet. “Could someone only stop the camera…” The breeze, the brief moment of shade, the beautiful river below – the sunshine sparkling and seeming to dance across it’s surface; the colourful, wonderfully scented lilacs that stretched all the way down the hill until they were out of sight. David with me to share it with. So many happy moments to savour. And now this poem. Thank you once again Jan. ❤️

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  4. Lovely, Jan, especially your observation: “I noticed a sensation, difficult to describe even to myself, that was certainly contentment, an ephemeral burst of happiness.” I know exactly what you mean! That ‘burst of happiness’ that sweetens a moment. Love – Mary Lou

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