Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

The asters shake from stem to flower
waiting for the monarchs to alight.

Every butterfly knows that the end
is different from the beginning

and that it is always a part
of a longer story, in which we are always

transformed. When it’s time to fly,
you know how, just the way you knew

how to breathe, just the way the air
knew to find its way into your lungs,

the way the geese know when to depart,
the way their wings know how to

speak to the wind, a partnership of feather
and glide, lifting into the blue dream.


There are so many ways to describe joy, so many ways to see it even when it may not seem present. Here is one way, without ever using the word, that this poet talks about to us about that exuberant feeling of blissful delight.

The first two lines provide a simple image easily visualized. Then it’s as if he is speaking for the butterflies who know that the ending is different from the beginning, that there is a longer story in which we are always transformed. Who does not know the classic metaphor of transformation from homely caterpillar to winged beauty?

Now the poet is speaking to the reader: When it is time to fly / you know how, just as you know how to breathe, the way geese know when to begin their migrations, each of these its own miracle. When it is time for your transformation, you just know how and when to fly, as natural as breathing.

This knowing is effortless, the way wings know how to speak to the wind, this joyful partnership, lifting us into the blue dream. Sometimes, we just know that feeling and are carried aloft, no need to even name our joy, simply to accept it.

I thank my dear friend and poetry ally, Laura, for introducing me to this poem and the poet, who also wrote Prayer for Joy.

4 thoughts on “Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

  1. I love this Jan. Thank you so much for reminding me of the lightness and effortlessness of joy. A sense of freedom and wonder and adventure and the knowing when it’s time to transform. It’s written so beautifully. And I feel very light now — like air. xoxo


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