“Being Happy” by Dana Gioia

Of course it was doomed. I know that now,
but it ended so quickly, and I was young.
I hardly remember that summer in Seattle—
except for her. The city seems just a rainy backdrop.
From the moment I first saw her at the office
I was hooked. I started visiting her floor.

I couldn’t work unless I caught a glimpse of her.
Once we exchanged glances, but we never spoke.
Then at a party we found ourselves alone.
We started kissing and ended up in bed.
We talked all night. She claimed she had liked me
secretly for months. I wonder now if that was true.

Two weeks later her father had a heart attack.
While she was in Chicago, they shut down our division.
I was never one for writing letters.
On the phone we had less to say each time.
And that was it—just those two breathless weeks,
then years of mild regret and intermittent speculation.

Being happy is mostly like that. You don’t see it up close.
You recognize it later from the ache of memory.
And you can’t recapture it. You only get to choose
whether to remember or forget, whether to feel remorse
or nothing at all. Maybe it wasn’t really love.
But who can tell when nothing deeper ever came along?

“Being Happy” by Dana Gioia from 99 Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2016.

“Cruising with the Beach Boys” by Dana Gioia

So strange to hear that song again tonight
Travelling on business in a rented car
Miles from anywhere I’ve been before.
And now a tune I haven’t heard for years
Probably not since it last left the charts
Back in L.A. in 1969.
I can’t believe I know the words by heart
And can’t think of a girl to blame them on.

Every lovesick summer has its song,
And this one I pretended to despise,
But if I was alone when it came on,
I turned it up full-blast to sing along —
A primal scream in croaky baritone,
The notes all flat, the lyrics mostly slurred.
No wonder I spent so much time alone
Making the rounds in Dad’s old Thunderbird.

Some nights I drove down to the beach to park
And walk along the railings of the pier.
The water down below was cold and dark,
The waves monotonous against the shore.
The darkness and the mist, the midnight sea,
The flickering lights reflected from the city —
A perfect setting for a boy like me,
The Cecil B. DeMille of my self-pity.

I thought by now I’d left those nights behind,
Lost like the girls that I could never get,
Gone with the years, junked with the old T-Bird.
But one old song, a stretch of empty road,
Can open up a door and let them fall
Tumbling like boxes from a dusty shelf,
Tightening my throat for no reason at all
Bringing on tears shed only for myself.

“Cruising with the Beach Boys” by Dana Gioia, from Daily Horoscope. © Graywolf Press, 2002.

“Guide to the Other Gallery” by Dana Gioia

This is the hall of broken limbs
Where splintered marble athletes lie
Beside the arms of cherubim.
Nothing is ever thrown away.

These butterflies are set in rows.
So small and gray inside their case
They look alike now. I suppose
Death makes most creatures commonplace.

These portraits here of the unknown
Are hung three high, frame piled on frame.
Each potent soul who craved renown,
Immortalized without a name.

Here are the shelves of unread books,
Millions of pages turning brown.
Visitors wander through the stacks,
But no one ever takes one down.

I wish I were a better guide.
There’s so much more that you should see—
Rows of bottles with nothing inside,
Displays of locks which have no key.

You’d like to go? I wish you could.
This room has such a peaceful view.
Look at that case of antique wood
Without a label. It’s for you.

“Guide to the Other Gallery” by Dana Gioia from 99 Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2016.

“Thanks For Remembering Us” by Dana Gioia

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they’re not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can’t
throw out a gift we’ve never owned.

—Dana Gioia. From Daily Horoscope, 1986. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn. Copyright 1986 by Dana Gioia. All rights reserved.

“Planting A Sequoia” by Dana Gioia

All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the

Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing
        the soil.

Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it
        over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.

In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first
        son’s birth –
An olive or a fig tree – a sign that the earth has once
        more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new
        stock into my father’s orchard.
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our
        native giant,
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an
        infant’s birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

We will give you what we can – our labour and our
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by
        the circuit of bees.
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in
        western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.

And when our family is no more, all of his unborn
        brothers dead,
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn
His mother’s beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and
        ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

by Dana Gioia, from The Gods of Winter, 1991