A Version of Happiness
By Michael Ryan
for Ellen Bryant Voigt
Tonight the band’s Nigerian—
Afro-Cuban, last week; next week, Cajun:
the summer multicultural concert series
in the San Juan Capistrano Library courtyard;
two hundred of us, all ages, in the audience;
Edenic evening air and stars: tickets six bucks.
You’d love this music, this place:
the musicians are like poets (they have day jobs)
and they’re good: they play this music
because they love it, love making it,
love being able to make it—together
(unlike poets?). The sound
each is part of and takes part in
feeds back through their collective body
for the next chord and phrase—
into fingers, lips, lungs, even elbows
in the case of the maniac god on the congas
when the guitars and horns cease
and the lead singers politely step aside
that we may witness his five-minute solo
and feel, as they do, the triumph of prowess
over human clumsiness, and notice
who’s drumming us into this happy trance.
Now they give us this chance: to notice.
They eye us like parents watching children
unwrap gifts. He sweats not only for us
but for what against all reason he can do
with whapping palms and shuttling elbows
that have multiplied exponentially beyond his allotted
two of each, because how can one man do this?
Ancient our amazement and this power
that has caused sane men to run point-blank into fusillades
or shuttle themselves, their wives, and their post-marital
extra twenty pounds behind a column of the courtyard portico
to dance beside an eleven-year-old with her mother
in probably the girl’s last summer as a child.
All evening these two have been a joy to notice:
the girl goofing with her dancing, freckled, gangly,
her impossibly sweet grin enhanced by the obligatory missing tooth,
her mom I imagine still her best friend
before the teenage hormonal tsunami sweeps her away
like a beach shack. Mom’s late thirtyish,
bespectacled, frumpy, doing dorky disco moves (like me)
she probably learned riding her tsunami
in front of a mirror to BeeGees songs
with an inconsolable crush on John Travolta
and no clue that happiness
might come someday from a parental talent for pleasure
in what another can do.
Your father thought your playing piano for the choir
in Baptist churches in rural Virginia
the pinnacle of achievement.
He loved music that much but couldn’t play it,
so he wanted you to, and you did.
How deep child-love is. I guess
we’ll do anything to make our parents love us
even if they can’t. The ones who can,
though—it’s ludicrous for me
to try to distill in words what it does to be loved
like that, but surely it’s visible
in you, my dear friend. This frumpy mom
shows it, too, as does this girl
despite disasters, trials, and heartbreaks
she may have already and certainly will suffer.
Nobody gets out alive, except in spirit
(the lucky ones), and I feel lucky
to have you to write to about this,
and to have this now, in time—this music
which couldn’t be more bodily
but translates beautifully.
I slept late with a grumpy and out-of-sorts cat on my feet and the weather was dismal -- cold rain all morning, hail and snow all afternoon, no fun at all to drive in when I had to pick up the kids -- so most of what I did Friday worth mentioning involved the television. Wrote a review of "Where No One Has Gone Before". Recorded Anne of the Thousand Days, of which I saw very little -- just her execution, really, waiting for the movie to end, though I adore Burton and Bujold in that movie. Then recorded Spartacus -- the restored widescreen edition with the "oysters and snails" scene included -- and didn't see much of that either because it's over three hours long, but I saw enough to remember how much I loved it and to notice that the excessive bloodiness of Rome is really unnecessary to drive home how bloody and brutal Roman culture was, nor do you need onscreen sex to characterize someone as sexually indulgent. In the evening we watched The Prisoner's "A. B. and C." which has fun trippy drugs and paranoia, though I'm never clear who they think Number Six might sell out to.
1. How are you feeling? Tired, bloated, a little headachy from the weather shifts, but pretty good.
2. When is the last time you went to the doctor? Last Tuesday to the dermatologist to get stitches out and another mole removed. He called today to say it was normal, yay.
3. Ever broken a bone? No, thankfully.
4. Ever had surgery? Two c-sections. Oh, and hernia surgery when I was a baby, but I don't remember.
5. When is the last time you were in a hospital? As a patient, when I gave birth ten years ago. As a visitor, last year.
thefridayfive: In Honor of St. Patrick's Day
1. What's your favorite shade of green? I love green. Forest, grass, lime, peacock, emerald, moss...
2. Do you wear green on St. Patrick's Day, and if not, do you ever get pinched? I wear green. Any excuse.
3. Do you do anything else to celebrate the holiday? Not being Irish and not being a big partier, no, though if someone wanted to put on Altan and give me a bit of Bailey's Irish Creme, I would not turn it down.
4. Have you ever consumed a green beer (or any other alcoholic beverage dyed green)? I once tried a thin mint cookie liqueur that was green, though not in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
5. Do you have a good luck charm, and if so, what is it? Being extremely superstitious, I have several. There is a mezuzah in each of my vehicles and a little prayer charm hanging from my keychain, plus several hamsas and things like that hanging in my house.
fannish5: Who are your five favorite fictional teachers or mentors?
I didn't feel like picking obvious candidates like Remus Lupin from Harry Potter, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Sir Edward Pellew from Horatio Hornblower.
1. Mrs. Who, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time
2. Donald Shimoda, Richard Bach's Illusions
3. Caillean, Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Forest House
4. Alberto Knox, Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World
5. Paul, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian
The baby meerkats at the National Zoo have grown up, though they are just as active and curious about the people outside the glass.
My sister, a Wisconsin alumna, will be glad the Badgers won, even though they're Michigan fans in her household because her husband went there. And I see that Virginia Tech beat Illinois and USC is about to knock off Arkansas. But I am only barely paying attention, since the TV is on and the sump pump is going and a cat is snoring next to me. Thanks so much everyone who sent healthy cat vibes! I'm behind on comments and stuff because I was out stressing about carpools on icy roads, shall try to get it together over the weekend. Happy St. Patrick's Day! *uses green icon so won't get pinched*