Instructions in Joy Meditations
By Nancy Shaffer
Two women, thin, one small, one gray-haired,
sit side by side on a high-backed bench.
The smaller one leans against the other,
lays her head atop the other’s shoulder,
wraps her arm around the other.
The one wrapped around, leaned against and
onto, sits upright.
The smaller one sits up also, but
cannot restrain herself: again leans,
again wraps. Still the other sits upright.
The smaller one takes her arm back,
her cheek back, the side of her body back.
Sits also upright. And so this dance
continues—only, look: it is not
a gray-haired woman and a smaller one.
Rather, a gray-haired woman and a boy,
twelve, an aunt and nephew, mother and son,
exuberance and angular reserve.
The boy—I cannot see his hand but
this is true: I see his shoulder—reaches
for the woman’s hand. Never does she
reach for his or look at him. He tries
again, impossibly: leans toward, whispers,
wraps his arm around, lays his head.
Later, I see the boy, freckled and open-faced,
punch cup in hand, turning toward me,
limbs new, not yet his own;
taller than I imagined when sitting.
Oh, I say—almost say, grabbing after
my fingers, pulling my hand back, already
nearly outstretched—Oh, I say, almost: whoever
taught you to love, you just keep loving.
But he is gone. My words float away, unsaid.
These I anchor, send after him: Gods who
dole out children, you keep him sturdy.