Published on Academy of American Poets (

Another of the Happiness Poems

It’s not that we’re not dying.
Everything is dying.
We hear these rumors of the planet’s end
none of us will be around to watch.

It’s not that we’re not ugly.
We’re ugly.
Look at your feet, now that your shoes are off.
You could be a duck,

no, duck-billed platypus,
your feet distraction from your ugly nose.
It’s not that we’re not traveling,
we’re traveling.

But it’s not the broadback Mediterranean
carrying us against the world’s current.
It’s the imagined sea, imagined street,
the winged breakers, the waters we confuse with sky

willingly, so someone out there asks
are you flying or swimming?
That someone envies mortal happiness
like everyone on the other side, the dead

who stand in watch, who would give up their bliss,
their low tide eternity rippleless
for one day back here, alive again with us.
They know the sea and sky I’m walking on

or swimming, flying, they know it’s none of these,
this dancing-standing-still, this turning, turning,
these constant transformations of the wind
I can bring down by singing to myself,

the newborn mornings, these continuals—


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Cooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’m weary of the poet-prophets who proclaim what we already know: that we have made a mess of planet earth. I am enough of a romantic to believe that imagination, conceiving of our present and future situation in image and metaphor, may be our first step toward the possibility of change in rethinking national policies.”
Peter Cooley


Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley is the author of Night Bus to the Afterlife (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014), Divine Margins (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2009), and A Place Made of Starlight (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003). He is a Senior Mellon Professor in the Humanities and director of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in New Orleans.

Date Published: 2015-09-11

Source URL: