Featured Poem: An Incomplete Encyclopedia of Happiness and Unhappiness

By Amy Newman

 

An incomplete encyclopedia of happiness
would have an entry on you
and a map of the walk you took when you were ten,
jingling your allowance and imagining a kingdom.
It would have a list of places to go for ice cream
and a compendium of the naturally sweet fruits,
their hues of flesh arranged on a color chart,
and types of candies in alphabetical order.

It would have an illustration of the angle of an infant
held in the cradle of arm, and an explanation
of the relationship of the word Elysium
to the broad arc the robin flies
beneath the seemingly perfect—almost emerald—
leaves of the summer, when the heart beats from joy,
when it’s almost too much, really,
almost too much.
The companion volume on unhappiness
starts earlier than it should, and contains
statistics on loss in blurry, mite-sized type.
There’s an article on that time the popular girl
squirted ketchup on your new shirt, the one
your mother worked six extra days to pay for,
near the category on Children in War Zones,
just to emphasize the shame of selfishness.
There’s a fold-out map of innocence lost,
and a hierarchy of illness
that runs off the top of the page.
Under a bibliography of missed opportunities,
a relief map using contour lines and shading
registers the exact moments
you said the wrong thing,
the utterly wrong thing.
You’ll find the Venn diagram of war and wisdom
under inexplicable human acts, W.
There’s a series of color plates:
one of Adam and Eve in a paradise,
one of McDonald’s,
and one of Adam and Eve entering McDonald’s.
And the appendix on political correctness
explains why none of that is funny.
The editor is up nights, compiling and revising
everything ever done or made
or imagined or hoped for,
everything bright and glazed
or dulled by use, or rubbed away
or fought for, or thrown or thrown at
or razed or constructed
or conceived of, or created, or traveled
or found, or glued together with sticks
or woven on a loom
or ripening, or run from, or planted
or trampled or rotted or lived with
or ruined, or feared, or endured,
everything believed and debunked, or believed and lost,
everything learned and everything forgotten,
including the incomplete encyclopedia,
including the editor’s research, his days compiling,
his nightmares about the stalled elevator,
a chart of his wife’s depression,
a graph of expenses for his kids’ birthday parties,
his fantasy about laying out Tim Hunter,
his love of cards, his fear of swans,
his father’s regret and his mother’s voice, singing,
all this unhappiness, all this happiness.
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