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Poet’s Corner: Manual for succumbing to joy

There are a couple of options for doing this.  You can just start out well-adjusted.  All your emotions lined up in perfect uniforms, none of them fearing any others, taking turns nicely.  Or you can fall down some stairs and hit your head.  Not recommended for everyone, but works for some.  Because of your fall and your broken foot and your bruised brain, quit everything.  Start spending a lot of time alone.  Watch the branches of trees wave gently below the clouds.  Notice ice on leaky windows, the way it flowers and paints across the glass.  Look closely at the insides of flowers.  Marvel at the geometric certainty.  Study the wings of birds, how the patterns make sense opened and closed.  Watch wind ripple across water.  Get excited by leaves falling so fast it sounds like rain.  Get excited by clouds.  Get so excited you join the Cloud Appreciation Society because all they do is send you pictures.  No obligation to do anything.  Remember reading Miss Rumphius to your kids and the lesson about making the world a more beautiful place.  Sit in your chair, by yourself, and think about how best to do this thing.  This thing that isn’t a thing.  You can’t sing, you can’t paint, your dancing skills are something to keep secret, your gardens are a bit on the wild side.  Think of something as changeable as wind.  Start to laugh.  A seed is bouncing around in your trampoline heart.  A little bird of a thought.  A bomb has gone off in your brain.  You know what to do.  Stop running.  Let it overtake you.
 
— Janet Fancher
 
(Janet Fancher lives in New Haven, where she is the co-owner, with her husband, of the custom cabinet shop Fine Lines In Wood, Inc. She holds an ancient MFA in Fiction writing from VCFA. She keeps her poems, and other writings, in disarray under her bed. The cabinets are on display in homes and businesses in Vermont and around the world.)
 
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I love this prose poem by Janet Fancher because of its energy and unique imagery. It feels like spring without mentioning the word spring. It carries the feeling of joy and a steady movement toward lightness. Joy is our birthright and something that is available to us, whatever our situation. “Joy,” said Bishop Desmond Tutu in conversation with the Dalai Lama for The Book of Joy, “is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not. The depths of our suffering can also result in the height of our joy.” 
The poem reminds us we don’t need to do or be anything in particular to feel joy.
I think of the lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.” You don’t have to be good…you don’t have to walk on your knees a hundred miles repenting….you just have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Or, as the speaker of this month’s poem writes, watch the branches of trees, get excited by leaves…..get excited by clouds. Whatever it is that brings you alive, let it in.
There is generality in this poem and there is specificity. There is surprise and paradox. We wouldn’t think at first that joy could come after an unfortunate event, but it can. It can arise during illness or injury when we experience an unexpected sense of peace or gratitude for something we otherwise might not have. Or it can be as simple as experiencing, amidst the cold dark days of winter, a sense of new life and movement in your soul.
Joy can arise from the ordinary and the overlooked. From the patterns that ice crystals make on a window, and the “geometric certainty of flowers,” a wonderfully interesting phrase. And from the not so geometric uncertainty of life. It can be in times of uncertainty, especially when we’ve let go of control, that surprise and joy most easily find us.
Poetry is made for holding uncertainty and surprise, as well as paradox, that place where two different ideas or tensions can live side by side and offer meaning, even illumination. Poetry can also, through a good metaphor, take something we thought we knew and make us see it in a way we haven’t before. We can experience joy in many ways; I find joy in words, in dance, in soulful connection with others, and the way the light of late day falls upon a tree. Until I read this poem, I’d never thought of joy as “a seed bouncing around in my trampoline heart.” But I do now.
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Susan Jefts is a poet and educator living in Cornwall, whose work has been published throughout the country. She is currently working on a book of poetry and running workshops that use poetry as a tool for exploring life issues and directions. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her website is manyriverslifeguidance.com

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