Treatise on Happiness and Sadness for the Rest of Us
Penelope Cray

We begin with simple statements:
The rest of us are happy
in spite of ourselves.

The rest of us are happy
to spite ourselves. The self
is a dark and sooty bird
that makes a nest of happenstance
and calls it happiness.


This is a mistake
but only for philosophers, who take everything
literally. The rest of us

are heading for the middle of the lake
in small bleached sailboats. We throw ourselves
from one side to the other
to keep our boat from tipping over.

This is known to the rest of us
as staying afloat.


The rest of us, in other words
may be in the same boat.


Meanwhile, the philosophers hoon ahead
on jet skis to study the bigger picture, namely,
that the lake is bigger than we are

in our keeling boats, deeper
and wilder. The philosophers
have tremendous accidents, and turn entirely
apoplectic over certain turns of events

as they try to avoid brushes
with the rest of us and our precarious
middling would-be happiness.


The philosophers want to know
are the rest of us poets (yes! yes!) of great sadness
or of great hope in spite of great sadness.

We tell the philosophers
we are poets of great sadness
in spite of great hope
but this makes the philosophers crazy.


Now that we have the philosophers' attention,
we capsize our boats and hide beneath them
with our store of air. The philosophers

deduce they've lost us forever
and call our names in Greek, Latin, French, and German,
but we don't respond, as usual
we don't understand.


We are happy beneath our boats being sad
and lost. We imagine
how we must look from shore

like so many tiny sun-bleached islands,
ancient islands, each with a god beneath.


Seagulls land. Their feet shift
like stars in our dark dome -- such happiness! --
and below us, another greater expanse of darkness

and some of us, seeing the fish dart
in the weed like silver eyes
grow afraid.


Some of us turn our boats back over
and lie in their bellies, pretending death
-- what a hoot! -- pretending

the lake has consumed us.


But we fail to impress. Our philosophers
have taken to talking to nature of nature,
forgetting us again --

our chapped lips, our parched throats
setting their theories to action like a good rabble,
which is to say, we believe

that a human paid no attention
will not survive.