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The Obligation to Be Happy by Linda Pastan

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Dear R., it just hit me: I am alone. I know I sent you a letter last Sunday, breaking the silence. A singularly bad idea, I remember saying. But that’s done. I wonder if you’re happy. If that’s worth leaving everything.


The Obligation to Be Happy
Linda Pastan

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.

This is from Carnival Evening by Linda Pastan, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

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