Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 12th Birthday

12! The duodecimal girl.
Sassy and witty and confident
All that I could ask for in a tween.
The year’s a blur for us, the boxes
Everywhere, boxes. The movers,
The chaos, the dust, the spiders.
The year’s a blur, but I hold you tight,
My eye in the hurricane,
The calm in the center of it all.
Our new house is still so new
We can hardly catch our breaths.
Where will everything go?
Where will everything fit?
Who says we need forks?
It’s a new town and you call it the country.

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Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Eighth Birthday

Seven turns to eight
And you demonstrate
Your deep infatuation
With creating lovely art.
A true appreciation
From your clever heart.
Throwing ceramics, writing poems,
Painting art for our walls at home.
You make every place your studio.
From tabletop or bunk bed
The world’s your portfolio
In your artist eyes, your artist head.
Eight turns around the sun
And you’ve only just begun.
Eight spins, my tiny jester,
Full of jokes, full of laughter.

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Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 11th Birthday

There’s nothing better than the human heart.
The driving, rolling passions moving us
To write a poem, to sing, to reach the moon,
To move a mountain (or at least to pull
A steamship over one like in a film
I love so much called Fitzcarraldo). We dance.
We laugh. We bend and break. Collapse. Endure.
A man without a heart’s a mannequin.
There’s pain in life; embrace it, yes. There’s joy
Beyond joy, if you let it, if you dare
To open up your heart and feel the flames
That glow inside. A little sun within
Us. Yes, it burns you sometimes, but it gives
You warmth. A life in ice is not a life
At all. Be warm instead and melt the ice
And wax. Be human, in all our dazzling downs
And ups and shimmerings in between. You’ll hear
Folks telling you to stifle it, to push
It down, repress it all. They’re wrong. They’ll say:
“She is 11 now, almost a teen,
Almost a drama bomb, almost a wild,
Annoying, sassy monster.” But again,
They’re wrong. I say that finally your life
Is starting; finally the craziness,
The swerving rollercoaster-bumper cars
Of happiness, confusion, anguish, angst,
This cornucopia called grown-up life
Is starting. And it can’t be stopped. Embrace
It. Laugh. Cry. Dance. Scream. Climb a mountain. Reach
Your fingers up and scratch at the moon. You’re alive.
You’re loved. You are 11. You’re alive.

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Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Seventh Birthday

Tonight it’s clear that I’m a lucky man.
Seven is my lucky number, yes,
For seven years you’ve made me smile and laugh,
For seven years you’ve made me proud as heck.
For seven is the age you’re turning now.
Astounding little smartypants, tough
As steel, and clever with all your jokes,
You talk to me in Japanese and teach
Me Minecraft tricks; you read me books and love
When I am reading books to you. You used
To say My Little Pony books were best,
But last weekend you said you have outgrown
Them. And I wonder what you’ll outgrow next,
As you change so fast before my eyes I can’t
Keep up. I woke one morning stunned to find
Your baby face had vanished; in its place,
A beautiful young woman. From the start,
Although you love to play with us and be
With us, you’ve been the family member who
Is fiercely independent, Lady March-
To-Her-Own-Drummer. How I cherish that!
And you should too; it’s far too rare these days.
Yes, you make new friends on every playground, like
A tiny politician; and yes, you love
To roughhouse, launching on your sister and
Me, shouting loudly “We are sandwiches!” Yet
You’re quite content to sing alone in bed
Or ponder hazy daydreams by yourself,
Miss Violet-Stands-Alone. Just know that as
The years fly past and as you grow and change,
And outgrow this or that, and keep on running
Down your independent paths, there is
One thing that doesn’t change, one thing on which
You can depend: your family’s here for you.
So here are seven hugs and seven big,
Sweet kisses, seven knock-knock jokes, and here
Are seven more of everything for you!

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Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 10th Birthday (Petite Madame Maelstrom)

This weekend two new lives entered our lives,
Two tiny-but-growing creatures, mewing, full
Of vim, electric, whirlwinds. I had thought
Your sister and you were whirlwind enough, but they
Are great additions to the family,
These kittens. And, dear 10-year-old, you’re great
At taking care of them. You have arrived
At last at the land of double-digits, sweet
Petite Madame Maelstrom, whirl-girl,
And it would be quite difficult to see
How I could be a prouder father. I
Suppose you could have had a few more huge
Accomplishments under your belt: you could
Have won a marathon while running back-
Wards; or you could have built a rocket by
Yourself then orbited the moon; you could
Have also won a slew of Oscars just
To have a showy way to hang up all
Your Nobel Prizes. Really though, I doubt
I would be too much more delighted than
I am with you in truth. With ease, you make
Me laugh each day so much my sides can hurt;
I’ve seen you like this with your friends as well.
You worry when it’s worth it; otherwise,
You keep an even keel (which Kipling taught
Us is as good a quality as one
Can have). My whole heart swells with joy
When I tell someone, “I’m Olivia’s dad!”
Because you always seek to do your best
And push to become better than you were
The day before. What more can I ever ask?

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Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Sixth Birthday

Sweet Violet, you were born in spring, and now
At six you are a child of spring as well.
You love it when the rains come. Yes, you run
For your boots and splash to your heart’s content, laughing long
And loudly. You find joy amidst the mists;
You frolic in the fogs; you hail the hails.
You’re always throwing back your head to feel
Rain droplets on your smiling little face.
Your tongue juts out to taste it too, before
You sing, “I’m singing in the rain!” And kick
Like an Irish dancer, marveling at it all.
And next your destination is the yard.
Mud warrior, dirt princess, shoveler of mighty heaps,
You search with epic glee for worms and grubs
Like a 49er scavenged for clumps of gold.
There is no hesitation to get filthy,
Cramped, or soaked in your contented quest
For life within the soil. For the child
Of spring is as focused as a scientist
Can get, and you await your Nobel prize
In something that relates to joy in earth
And rain and laughter. Happy birthday, love.

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Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Ninth Birthday

Hey, there, nine-year-old! You’re pretty special,

With your sassy sophistication,

Your biting sense of humor, and

Your ever-growing list of skills that I

Don’t have like sewing your own clothing and,

Wow, speaking Japanese. I am impressed.

I did not have my act together half

As well as you when I was turning nine.

Perhaps my favorite thing about you now
(Beyond how sweet you are) is that you share
My love of books, and every single night
We read our books together side by side,
Silently trying to push ourselves to learn
New things and become more than we were before.
In these moments it is not at all
Uncommon for me to stop my reading, watch
You for a while, and say: I’m honored to be your father.

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Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Fifth Birthday

Four went out like a lion, breaking your arm
In the process, leaving me hoping for a year
Of lambs. I am so proud of how you coped
With all your pain and never lost your smile
Or sense of humor, you little cherub. I have
No doubt at all you handled every aspect
In a better way than I did, girl,
And I was merely watching. Now
Our whirlwind winter’s passed and springtime sun
Has settled over Portland. Birdsong fills
Our ears, and tulips bloom in every yard.
And you have left behind your “toddler years”
For good now; all that’s gone in a blink of our eyes,
A blink that calendars can somehow say
Was five long years, but felt like nothing more
Than seconds as you’ve laughed and played with us.
The toddler’s gone and left us with someone
Who’s tiny but sophisticated, wild
But wise, rambunctious, joyful. And to that
I say: this change is great; high five, little bird.

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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.

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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.

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