James Harms: “Accidental Happiness”


          St. Mark’s Place, 1960

Is it luck or fated,
willed or created,
the reporter asked,
not hearing himself rhyme.
Auden smiled. Happiness
is an accident, he said.
He hunched
into his topcoat
and looked past
the young man
at a policeman feeding
his horse an apple.
The reporter lowered
his notepad
and looked up.
It was difficult to write
standing outside
on a sidewalk, winter
cramping his fingers.
I meant poetry, he said.
Auden smiled again,
his face, well . . . his face.
He pointed down the street
where the earth seemed
to end in a tangle
of market stalls and old
women–they wheeled
their shopping carts
between rows of vegetables
and discount cleaning
supplies. Happiness
is one door down
from loneliness:
it’s easy to enter one
room thinking one is
entering the other.
He didn’t say this
out loud; it seemed
silly, even in his mind.
The reporter stared
where Auden
was pointing, not noticing
the great man had turned
around as if to look
at someone who wasn’t there.
But had been.

James Harms’ most recent book, Comet Scar, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2012. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Missouri Review, Shenandoah, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.

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