The Greensboro Review Literary Award Poem NOT THAT HAPPINESS

Spring 2006: Issue 79

Greg Rappleye

Not bluebirds nesting in a wooden box

nailed to your picket fence.

No geraniums in the planter, but yarrow

where the trees begin, hawkweed

in a clearing near the black locust

and loosestrife—how you are helpless

against its beauty—everywhere

along the creek. No friends anymore

who ask about dinner, but a boy who woke

last week, singing counterpoint

to the wrens. To read, We are without

consolation or excuse, and remember

a sack of peaches from a roadside stand;

hunger the day you stopped for them.

Maxine Sullivan singing “Blue Skies.”

In winter, lullabies sung for the dead.

The shoulder roast simmering in red wine

with potatoes and sweet onions

on a day when the rain begins; your heart

sliding toward the sinkhole of November.

Who is not captive to some small happiness?

To love a field you can never own—the pink mist

of knapweed, the blue of chicory.

Or the heron that settles in the neighbor’s pond

and croaks through the last of your dreams.

You startle awake, patting your head, glad

that you are not a minnow, darting

among the muddy reeds. How it comes around,

this happiness, like a landlord sniffing out the rent.

Not what you ordered—pennywhistles, cellophane hats,

those hand-crank noisemakers—but the happiness

that finds you, scrawls a receipt, says,

“You paid for this,” whatever happiness is.