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 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 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 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 Olivia, on Your Third Birthday

Spring sits on the city; winter is done. (It took
The earth four turns to show you one at last,
A real spring, yes, real seasons and not mere
Flipping of the calendar, and heck, it took
It 37 turns to show your mom,
A child of the South, where “hot” and “not-so-hot”
Can qualify as seasons, but are just
Two separate settings on the window air
Conditioner.) It seems a Portland spring
Is not a stable season, rolling through
A brilliant sun and chilly clouds, a tug
Of war that really lasts the whole year long.

Our spring sits hot and then it’s cold; the sun
Is bright and then it’s gone. The only thing
That stays the same here is the green, green leaves,
The green, green grass, which makes the city seem
A far too western island of Ireland. Such life!
Everything’s alive, alive. It’s hard
To be nostalgic in this boundless birth,
Eternal present, but we had a guest
In our house last week, an ancient alley cat
Named Chester, who reminded me our time
Is short, too short at that. He made me think
Of how you’ve changed in just these first few months
This year, yes, how you were a baby when
The snows came after Christmas and you’re now
A girl, dancing, laughing, poised, with friends
And schoolmates, and a host of memories
All your own already, and this globe
Keeps spinning round with season after season…

But you’ve no need to come to me for what
The weather’s doing. You may not be three
Quite yet — a few days left for two — and yet
You know which way the wind doth blow — at least
Where the hot air is, with such a dad
As this one you have gotten from God’s dice.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your Second Birthday

The moving vans have come and gone. We say,
“Good riddance! Now you need not come again.
We’ve found our home and plan to stay a while,
A long, long while perhaps if things remain
As paradisiacal as they are
These first few days we’ve been here.” Spring abounds.
The city is a garden: golden, lush,
Wooded, eager. Now each breath feels new.
We’re born again as children with you, child,
Here among the shady trees, the rows
Of roses, tulips, yellow raspberries,
And, oh, those endless boxes, cardboard walls
That we break through to free our lives from webs
Of fading pasts toward new adventures, love.

And you’re anew as well, with attitudes
Beyond a baby, with fresh looks, fresh words
And phrases such as: “Hug you, Daddy?” “Thank
You, Mom!” or “No more Jaime, gray cat, plays
‘Coyote,’” when he’s howling at the moon.
Who knows what’s next? I hold my breath in wonder.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your First Birthday

Today I ask myself (and reader, you
Can ask yourself as well as we go along)
What is the greatest sound there is to hear?
I close my eyes in thought. My mind rolls through
Its little catalog: a Kansas freight
Train’s rattling din, Glenn Gould’s soft math
In Goldberg Variations, V.U.’s twist
On lullabies in “Sunday Morning,” ice
Beneath my shoes in summer walks alone
In central Idaho. Though in the past
The items on this list would fight for top
Position, all has changed today, as I’ve
Developed different tastes, new ways to hear
The world around me. Now the greatest sound,
Olivia, without a doubt must be
Your laugh, my daughter. Nothing can compare.
The trials of a long workday collapse
Beneath the power of your smallest hint
Of giggling, and instantly I’m all
Aglow. You hold me tight; I hold you up
And tickle you beneath your ears to hear
That magic sound, that paradise, your laugh.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on the Day of Your Birth

Olivia, I love you, though we have
Not yet met, technically speaking, as
A bag of skin and other things has kept
You hidden from us for these many months
(Except occasional soft kicks and jabs
Against your mother’s ribcage and below),
But now the day is nearly here, the day
When we will meet, and I will hold you close –
Your chest against my own, your eyes on mine,
With your whole body in my hands – and tell
You secrets of the universe, those things
That other people might ignore and yet
You’ll need to navigate your way,
Such things as “Johnny Cash’s voice is God’s;”
“Walt Whitman’s words trace half the human soul;”
While “Dickinson’s survey the other;” “Oils
Picasso painted show that genius can
Be nearly infinite;” though “Those van Gogh
Produced reveal there’s darkness underneath
It all as well”… and on and on… I could
Continue, but I best save something – yes? –
For when we meet and you are safe within
My arms against my chest, as then we’ll have
Some time to get acquainted, for me to watch
You grow, to change some diapers and to tell
You all my silly aphorisms and
How much you mean to me, Olivia.