What Happiness Looks Like by Marge Piercy

Some things are ordinary but perfect:
drinking coffee on summer mornings
with you as the cats laze about, fed,
on you or on me or curled together
in the bay window on a sunny pillow.
Outside the weeping beech stirs
in the wind, leaves hanging down
like just washed long tresses.
We talk softly of the pending day.
This is all I would need of heaven
that I don’t believe in, but this
I believe.

from On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light

I’m always interested in what happiness looks like, the authentic kind, so this brief poem caught my attention. I especially like the opening line: Some things are ordinary but perfect. Think about that; is it not so true? The ordinariness of drinking coffee on summer mornings, even if your choice is tea or something else, that first sip can be perfect. The image of cats curled together / in the bay window on a sunny pillow is such an iconic one, you don’t need your own cats, just your your imagination.

The imagery of the weeping birch, leaves hanging down / like just washed long tresses is also memorable, also ordinary and perfect. If you don’t have any weeping birch in view, surely there are other graceful leaves to soothe your sight. The poet and her unseen partner talk softly of the pending day, those ordinary, simple conversations that may occur at any time of the day, especially with ourselves.

The final line captures the essence of this morning, something any one of us might say: This is all I would need of heaven / that I don’t believe in and then she turns it into the coup-de-grâce, but this / I believe. Yes, this ordinary happiness I, too, can believe in, simple but perfect.

10 thoughts on “What Happiness Looks Like by Marge Piercy

  1. Great insights from you! You help me read one of my favorite poets anew. She is one of our esteemed elders at this point. I used to keep her “Cats Like Angels” on my wall,..she is one of those wonderful poets who, I feel, brings the immanent, the embodied, the Feminine, the sensual into poetry. This is lovely; thank you.

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  2. This is wonderful, Jan, for a week when I need to be pulled back to the happiness the ordinary can bring. This morning its soft cool air after rain, the trees dripping and still, the cat arriving to purr on my belly till I rouse for the day. That first sip of good coffee. The quiet dark as the light slowly rises. Thank you.

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