Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Eighth Birthday

You’re eight years old today; that’s twice as old
As Violet is, a feat you’ll never find
A way to duplicate… although I should
Not put it past you, as you’re capable
Of things I’ve never dreamed; impossible
Accomplishments seem possible with you.
I don’t believe in magic, but you make
Me second-guess myself sometimes with all
You do these days. Like when you open up
Your mouth and Japanese comes pouring out.
Yes, then my ears are filled with wonderment,
And air feels full of angels; reason bows
Out happily; my hairs begin to stand
On end, as life is charged with your ambitions.
Turn an 8 and see it is infinity.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Fourth Birthday

It’s a game of pure potential now,
To dream of what you’ll grow to be when you
Are not this tiny, darling three-year-old
(Who’s turning four today). Let’s play. To start:
Your voice is squeaky now, and yet you squeak
With oomph and gravitas enough to make
Me feel you could become an opera star
Whose aria in soprano shatters glass;
Perhaps instead that voice will help you land
A gig as an umpire in the major leagues:
“Yerrr out!” And while you are already strong
And daring like a swashbuckler sailing the seas
With skull and crossbones flapping overhead,
And your laugh is diabolical at times
And somewhat like a cartoon super-villain’s,
I know that if you’re breaking any laws,
You’d be like Robin Hood, and working toward
The greater good. But rest assured, the paths
You choose (like astronaut or janitor
Or mime or captain of a river boat)
Will never change the fact that I’m so proud of you.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Seventh Birthday

A seven-year-old stands before me now?
That is amazing, as it seems more like
A month or two since you were born. But now
When I might try to think of what had come
Before, I find that’s just a hazy dream,
As if it were a thousand years ago.
I have to ask myself: Was I alive
Before you came to me, before I met
You, little angel? Was that “life” at all,
That span before, the hintertime, that dark
Epoch, the antediluvian age? Not much,
I guess, as now it seems like I was born
With you (or reborn, I suppose I ought
To say) those seven years ago when you
Arrived to change all my perspectives, dear.
So what now? What stands before us?

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Third Birthday

If I can teach you anything of value,
Teach you anything that’s meaningful
To me, as well as to this crazy world,
It is to recognize the beauty that
Surrounds us all in everything we do.
Yes, even in the ugly acts, the strange,
Absurd, and contradicting acts, the acts
That do us harm when what we meant was good,
We still reveal our complex natures, still
Reveal our malleable human gorgeousness.

In our hearts we are complex; we are
All inconsistent, self-destructive, all
Erratic, and we often scoff at this
Behavior, thinking it beneath us, though
It is in fact a fundamental part
Of our humanity itself. We are
Chameleons on a multi-colored bush.
We’re dogs that chase our tails, then bark and snap
At shadows on the wall. We’re hypocrites,
But I love us all, and you should too. (I know
It’s hard to do, and sometimes seems a waste
Of time, and sometimes is a dumb and even
Counterproductive effort, but that’s just
My point exactly.) And you’ll see this all
Around you once you start to look. For one
Example, you should visit Venice, great
And gorgeous Venice, which I call the heart
Of all the world. Once I stood inside
A cold Venetian church and was amazed
To find two shining marble-sculpted odes,
To Venus and to Jesus, which have been
Beside each other for some centuries.
The scene still speaks to me: The world of love
Is big, with room enough for all of us
And all our contradictions. Why, the whole
Amazing city — it’s as fine a place
You’ll find on Earth — is built upon a swamp
(Laguna, so they say); forever floods
Push past its water-street canals; the brine
Seeps deep within this priceless palace, then
To that one, on and on. Ridiculous,
But perfect. Human nature in a nutshell.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Sixth Birthday (The Other Basement)

Imagination, birthdays are a time
For it, for you to hold your breath, and just
Before you blow out your candles, close your eyes
And make a wish about the year ahead,
What it holds for you, what you’ll come across.

The morning of your sixth birthday we played
Outside in our back yard. The sky sat calm;
It rolled between those cool and pleasant ways
That Oregon is somewhat famous for
To start a late-May day, and we played catch,
Then kicked the soccer ball around the grass.
One shot of yours ran past me to the far
Side of our house, and then we stopped and looked:
There was a door we’d never noticed. Red,
Like rust, and nondescript, the door led down
From our walkway to a secret stair
Leading to another basement, just
Next to our run-of-the-mill, regular one
We’d been using all this time, but not
Connected. How had we missed this? It’s hard
To fathom, but we had somehow. We pushed
The door ajar and stepped inside… and what
Miraculous magics did we find down there!

A ______ was propped against the railing, its
Amazing cover was all shiny gold
With silver stars. We stepped around it, down
The stairs into the room itself. Two ____s
Were hanging from the rafters by a chain
That stretched back to a dusty chandelier.
One _____ beside the stairs was marked “from Egypt;”
Another by the wall said “Harare,
Zimbabwe.” Three elaborate cages sat
Stacked high against a post; in each there was
A ______ who watched us as we walked (I have
To wonder who’s been feeding them down here).
Along the west, a row of windows bathed
The room in light, but looked out on a part
Of Portland I had never seen — it seemed
More Paris or Buenos Aires. Three huge ________s
Grew there beneath the windows; their long leaves
Were covering a group of boxes filled
With ________s and ________s and ________s and ________s. We played
The day away, and seeing sunlight fade
We knew we should head back upstairs. We shut
The door behind us, knowing we’d return;
That night, exhausted, we spent dreaming of
Our great adventures in our other basement.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Second Birthday

Two! Now all the temper tantrums are
Upon us, and you fight us when you do
Not get your way. Perhaps I should be mad
At you and scold you, or go research what
The latest trends of psychological
Advice in parents magazines might say
I am to do instead to be a fit
And proper dad. But really I am too
Impressed by these displays to do much more
Than laugh in admiration at your strength
And perseverance. You, my love, are such
A healthy, powerful child it’s difficult
To not be overawed at times. Perhaps
The fates will send you down a path to grow
To be a great commander, a warrior who
Will lead her troops to battle on a distant
Sandy beachhead, barking orders, while
You carry a wounded comrade on your back.
I doubt that path is yours though, as you love
So much to laugh and play and dance and tell
Your favorite knock-knock jokes (which make no sense
To anyone but you of course). To me
It seems it’s far more likely that you’ll be
A comic than a soldier, but I have
Been wrong before and will be wrong again,
I guess. Of this I know I’m right: what path
You take will be the one you choose yourself;
You’re much too strong to do anything else.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Fifth Birthday

Who are these angels at my side, one small,
One smaller, though they seem to grow each day?
Rambunctious angels, loud and loving life.
And you, the older one, I see you’ve had
Another birthday. Yes, Olivia
Is five now. (Wow, how tempus fugits fast.)
My joy, you’ve grown into so many things
Within these five short years that’ve flashed across
My life like lightning, come and gone in a clap
Of thunder (sounding suspiciously like laughs
Of a little girl): you are a daughter who
Loves to help her dad with any task
Around the house; a school girl learning how
To speak and read in Japanese; a friend
To your new classmates (could these friendships last
A lifetime now?); a scientist who lifts
Up rocks to study soils and bugs you find
Below; a doctor with a stethoscope
Who listens closely to our hearts and breaths
And tries to take our blood pressures as well;
A treasure hunter seeking precious stones
And other shiny things throughout our yard;
And, most excitingly, the best big sister
You can be; you try your best each day.
(That’s all that I can ask of you; it’s more
Than I can really ask.) The girl grows up.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your First Birthday

I feel we’ve been through this before, yes, you
And me, this birthday thing, this time together,
But I guess it really has been just
A year, a single revolution here
Of this rock around the sun, a single cycle
Of the seasons… Wait, that’s it? That’s all? Not more?
Seems strange, seems short, seems you have been a part
Of our home here, our little family,
For so much longer, yes, too long to count.

Since your birth you’ve been a part of us,
And such a happy child, healthy too,
Strong as Alcides in Argos (though
I hope I’m not like Linus with his lyre
Sometime we’re playing the guitar
together), strong in form and strong in will
as well, not ever failing to express
Your feelings on a subject with a grunt,
A growl, a laugh, a hug, a shove, a sign
for “More, more, more!” I’d say the most amazed
I am with you is with your love of song,
How any music you encounter will
Delight you, from some simple humming to
A smashing, crashing orchestra, will get
You dancing in a flash; your head will nod,
Your arms will wave, your butt will bounce, your face
Will shine alive with firecracker laughs
Just bursting from your giant, happy smile.

Don’t lose that love as you grow older. Hold
It tight and don’t let go, as music has
Brought me a life of joy (though if I had
To choose in some silly devil’s bargain, I
Would rather listen to you and your sister laugh
Than anything else I’ve ever heard on Earth).

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Fourth Birthday

I watch you grow. Your changes come so fast
It seems I can’t keep up with them, and now
You are a sister too, which is again
Presenting whole new worlds to you, and you
Are growing, altering because of it.
When I reach down to tuck you into bed
At night, I ask myself just who I think
You will become by the return of sun
In the morning, and I joke so much will be
Transformed I may not recognize you,
A dazzling changeling there awash in sand
From the sandman and the golden dust
From the fairy folk who brought you here—
And your little sister too—all new,
All different, but still my darling daughters.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on the Day of Your Birth

Ring the church bells. Honk the loudest horns.
Get that guy who owns some stilts to stomp
Around the city square announcing your
Arrival via megaphone, and hire
A group of college kids to chant your name —
“Violet! Violet!” — as a fire boat
Passes down the river spraying jets
Of water up in all directions so
The crowds on shore can ooh and ahh and say,
“I’d like to meet this newborn baby girl!”

You see, by simply being you, you’ve done
A very cool thing: adding a fourth
Dimension to our family; you took
Us out of three dimensions. Einstein wrote
A lot about this stuff and won a bunch
Of accolades… though honestly I think
I’d rather read some Dr. Spock these days…