A Vocabulary of Joy
Your mother taught you this
when you were a boy.
She lived it, taught it. It sank in,
a vital part of who and what
you would become.
Words create feelings.
They heal. They wound.
They inspire, inform, sell,
They should be
things of truth.
You think on this on the long drive home.
The GPS has changed its mind once again
and you are on a new road with new thoughts.
It is dark, late at night. Here and there,
lights twinkle. Cabins and houses in the forests.
You can smell the wood smoke.
Yes, it is February. And there is snow
and ice on the road.
You drive, as you generally do, too fast.
But it is warm outside. Over 40.
and the ice melts. You feel it give way
as you press the accelerator around the curve.
It is nearly spring. Oh yes, there will be more snow,
but you are aware of the change.
There is something new in the wind.
You sense, more than see, the bulbs stir.
It is time to change colors,
to let go of the greys and dirty whites
that are so familiar, but not quite true any longer.
You need a new vocabulary, a thing of color and sun,
the truth of you.
You have become too familiar with dark words.
They filled so much of your past
that they had become your mother tongue.
But you do not live there any longer.
To speak the truth, you must learn new words
to tell it.
You have always been bad at languages.
Words came hard. They still do.
You barely passed French in high school, college, grad school.
It is your nemesis.
But when you live in a place, you must learn
the new land’s words. To speak them
as if they were your own.
And so you struggle with this vocabulary of joy,
to tell your truth in words that feel odd
spilling out of your mouth and pen.
You must let go
your mother tongue.
The truth insists on it.
There are new paintings to create,
bright things, the colors of childhood,
a reclaiming of innocence,
and it awaits you at the end of the road,
in the place where your love lives.
You press the pedal.
The car moves faster through the night.
About this poem.
My life is good right now. I don’t reflect that enough in my poetry. Part of that, I think is that I tend to write in the morning when my depression is at its strongest, and I have used my poetry to expunge that demon. Part of it too, is that I have become familiar with the vocabulary of pain. I’ve used it a long time. The words come easily.
But it is not really my truth. My truth is that life is good. I am as happy as I have been in many, many, many years.
It is time to find my own vocabulary of joy. It will take a while. But, as the poem said, as my mother taught me, words matter. It’s time to find some new ones. It may not come easily, but it will come. Because I am a persistent kind of guy, not because of innate skill.
The painting is one of mine, titled “Tulip Garden”.