making the most of it

Apr 15, 2021 poetry appreciation

This week’s poem brought a soft smile to my face. It has a delightful quality of warmth and tenderness, and is such a good reminder of making the most of what we have—not in a Brownie-Guide Come on, girls, no moping! style, but in a much more palatable, seeing what is, not just what isn’t sort of a way. Enjoy ‘Happiness‘ by Wesley McNair.

It’s easy (for me anyway) to feel frightened about ageing, but ‘Happiness’ is a good antidote to that fear. McNair puts in all the details to remind us that this is a pair of ageing sisters—’freckled hand’, ‘wide self’, ‘her left,/ the unarthritic, ankle’, ‘coaching outside on her cane’—but they are seen with such tenderness and such a lack of pity: seen clearly, in a spirit of acceptance that things simply are how they are. Yes, the sisters are not as limber as they once were. But they are still themselves, still capable of laughing, still willing to enjoy the moment.

Many of us will be able to relate to the struggle of getting out of the back of a two-door: the awkwardness of it, the potential for giggling. ‘Happiness’ conjures the moment so vividly, and with such affection and kindness. Dot is laughing, and presumably her sister is, too, and ‘when you finally place the pillow behind her back/ and lift her right out into the sunshine,/ all four of [them] are happy’. This is a small but special occasion: you get a sense of the “best” blouse, that this is a treat (‘how nice to get out’). Dot’s voice comes over clearly—’oh,/ I could never finish all that’—and although the poem’s speaker shares a joke with the reader, there’s no malice in it: again, the amusement is gentle, a mild poking of fun which is full of affection.

And Dot eats it all up. Good on her.

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