by Danusha Laméris
The optometrist says my eyes
are getting better each year.
Soon he’ll have to lower my prescription.
What’s next? The light step I had at six?
All the gray hairs back to brown?
Skin taut as a drum?
My improved eyes and I
walked around town and celebrated.
We took in the letters
of the marquee, the individual leaves
filling out the branches of the sycamore,
an early moon.
So much goes downhill: our joints
wearing out with every mile,
the delicate folds of the eardrum
exhausted from years of listening.
I’m grateful for small victories.
The way the heart still beats time
in the cathedral of the ribs.
And the mind, watching its parade of thoughts
enter and leave, begins to see them
for what they are: jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats
tossing their batons in the air.
From Bonfire Opera. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020.
Danusha Laméris recounts the rare experience of something actually getting better with time, and invites us to celebrate the good news with her. “So much goes downhill,” she says, reminding us of the body’s fragility and vulnerability, of which we are all painfully aware right now. Yet she also urges us to be “grateful for the small victories,” for the fact that the heart carries on “in the cathedral of the ribs,” and that the endlessly busy mind keeps sending out its “parade of thoughts.” I love the way the speaker of this poem seems to detach from her own anxieties and intrusive thoughts, even playfully seeing them as “jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats” meant to entertain, and not to be obeyed. And in her question, “What’s next?,” I also hear the willingness to have hope that other things in her life, and in the world, might begin to improve as well.
Invitation for Writing and Reflection: This week, write your own celebration of your “small victories” during this time of quarantine and shutdown orders. You might make a list from today, or this past week, of things you managed to accomplish in spite of fear, worry, and (if you’re anything like me) resistance to the way things are right now. Maybe you wrote an email, worked on a project, made a meal, or simply showered before noon. Whatever your list, try to capture that same sense of gratitude and joy for the things that actually (surprisingly) went well for you.