My Mom’s Been Asking for a Happy Poem All My Life
So I fight all my destructive urges to give her one. A tiny globe
filled with first snow I’m determined not to shatter across blacktop.
Once, in the parking lot of Home Depot, we got into the blue van
& everything felt off, uncanny, a fast-food wrapper from a place
we hadn’t eaten, the dashboard dustier than it should’ve been.
It took us a full thirty seconds, Mom in the driver’s
seat though she hadn’t driven in years, me in the passenger, her ride-
or-die since I was a little girl & one of her only friends in our strange &
tiny border town, before we realized This isn’t our van! & we scrambled
out, laughing our heads off & terrified the owner
had called the cops on the women who look like twins
carjacking them. We laugh about it every time we’re in a parking lot.
That wasn’t our only Lucy & Ethel moment. There was the time
we ordered what we thought was a roll from the drive-
thru at Panera Bread, thinking we’d share it to split the calories
but when the server handed it to us, the long, thin bread kept
coming through the window. Mom & I thought
baguette meant roll, it sounded petit. & although this poem’s
only point is to make Mom happy it’s also to heal
something in myself I hadn’t known needed a balm until the words
hit the page, the way moms know, the way mine sent me flowers
when the love of my young life got another girl pregnant & left me
heartbroken & without a prom date, or when Mom gave me a gold
nutcracker pin after the ballet recital when all the other girls got
flowers & I shoved the beautiful pin back at her because it wasn’t flowers.
And she said flowers wilt. I wanted to get you something
that would last forever. Like her love. A poem can be sentimental
because poems are filled with life, but sometimes we need to look
our moms in the eyes & apologize. Or say thank you.
Our moms remind us what it felt like when we were safe
in their arms, even if our moms weren’t safe, even
if they were only holding it together for us, to give us a happiness
they’d created from thin air. Motherhood is made of that
magic. I’m crying now. Mom, I promise, they’re happy tears.
Copyright © 2023 by Jennifer Givhan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Throughout my childhood, although often tumultuous and painful, my mom would put on classic musicals, and my older brother, mom, and I would sing along (my little brother was a baby). My mom attends most of my poetry readings, especially the virtual ones, and has asked me again and again to record our joy. This poem has been a lifetime coming. Writing is one of our greatest survival tools, but I sometimes forget that survival also means reminding ourselves what we live for. I get so busy living the joy, I forget to record it. This poem is that reminder.”