Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 17th Birthday

The other night we watched some silly films,
If you recall.  Quite silly, but they have
Been staying on our minds these past few days… 
So, if The Fast & The Furious have taught
Us anything, it is not merely that
The cast was less than stellar in the field
Of acting (though we’d not deny their charms),
But also — and, hey, this is the thing 
To actually pay attention to here, right? —
It’s that the bonds we have with friends as well
As those of family are holding us
Together as a species, the mortar, strong,
Unbreakably strong when we want, that holds
Us up high, brick by brick, like a fortress wall 
Against outsiders who would tear us down, 
And like a sea wall holding back a storm
That crashes mighty waves against us
And would have washed us each away, 
And tossed us one by one into the depths,
But we are not alone; together we
All hold each other fast, our friends, our group,
Our kin, our blood, our heart. There always will
Be forces furious to pull us all 
Apart, and when we look at them we find
That often they are simply us ourselves
A bit confused about humanity
And wanting just to see us put in tribes,
Divided into silly this or that, 
Because of how we say the names of God
Or how our hair, complexions, eyes, or what 
Compare to someone else’s. We are strong
Together, stronger than the storm can be 
No matter how it scares us, stronger still
Than doubt. And let me tell you, when the clouds
Are breaking and the sun shines down, you look
Around at all those who were with you through
That mess, and then you’ll feel true victory 
As good as anything you’ll ever feel,
Like you’re Vin Diesel rushing past the cop
Who soon becomes his brother, or the Rock
When a torpedo needs a righteous shove
Away from pals, or Lucas Black alone
But in his father’s car and drifting through 
The night in shiny Tokyo to stop 
The mafia. High five, brah. You won.
And that triumphant feeling can’t be beat.
Embrace it! Yes, embrace togetherness,
Furiously, fastly, and without irony.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your 13th Birthday

Time rolls itself awake; it yawns,
Then mutters underneath its breath:
“Amid this strange pandemic, life
Continues… And your teenage years
Officially are here.” We cheer
And throw a little party now,
As Time goes back asleep. Above
Our heads, across the sunny sky
Soft clouds float past us as if all
Were just a dream. The days feel like 
This too. “Some music!” someone says;
We, nodding in agreement, drop 
The needle on the record. Sounds
Come pouring out like milk
Into a bowl of cereal.  
The stereo is now alive
With Macca singing deep thoughts like
“The butter wouldn’t melt; so we put it in a pie.”
The clouds continue on, the days
As well. What fresh dreams now await
Us, fresh adventures just around
The corner, ready to surprise us next?  

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 16th Birthday

Here’s a year when all went upside down,
A nutty, silly year, the dumbest year.
And look, we’re all agoraphobic now,
Anthropophobic even, strange to say;
Behavior that’s against the very core
Of things in our humanity: “Wear masks…
No touching… Stay six feet apart or more…”
And yet. And yet this year there is at times
Great beauty — as there often is in life —
Of calm, of stillness, set apart from all
The crises of the daily news alerts
That yell at us (when we will let them). Time
Together, time alone, to stop and think,
A chance to breathe deep breaths, a chance to hold
Our breaths, a chance to hold each other too,
And to reset our lives. We should have done
This years ago (and should do so again).
It took the earth to do it for us first,
Which just is how things go sometimes, a push
From where you least expect, but when you need
It most. And — boom — a time to start afresh.

Reminds me of when you were two; we spent
A year together, you and I, a year
Of peace, and laughs, and tears, and diapers. Yes,
There were a lot of diapers. (Plus, there was
A little freelance work from home like now
As well.) And if we let them, years like these
Can teach us wondrous lessons on the ways
To listen, really listen, to the purrs
Of cats all stretched across your lap or chest,
To listen to your own deliberate steps
And hear the sound of gravel underneath
Your feet along our walkway, and those breaths
You take as you read in Northwest sunlight here
By our front door in your great-grandma’s chair,
And the soft and wild breezes that can lift
And carry neighbors’ voices to us. May’s
Last days will lead to summer soon. The earth
Spins on. The clouds float on. The trees like years
Reach up and out to higher things than us.
And look! The birds all spin and dance in air
In dawn and dusk. Their message, if you want
To hear, is things that can go upside down,
My dear, can also go up-right again.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your 12th Birthday

The strangest days, the strangest times!
We’re wearing masks; the shops are closed;
And school is through the laptop now.
Decades in the future you’ll
Recall this all, and tell the tale
To folks too young to know.
I long for days to be a bit
Less memorable than now,
But in a way it’s fun to say
That you are in it, living through
A monumental moment, one
For every book that people write
About this year in coming years.

But don’t forget the sun still sets
On bad days like the good. The sun
Keeps rising, earth keeps spinning, spring
Keeps coming every year for us
No matter what. And spring means what?
Your birthday’s here again of course!
We love you, growing 12-year-old.

For a while at least, time is ours,
As it always should have been
(But we had somehow let it slip
Away to empty silliness:
To silly cars on silly streets
To silly jobs that never pay
Enough to justify the waste).
Yes, time is ours again. Let’s make
A more humane life now for us,
A life where we will sit beneath
The apple tree in our front yard
And watch the bees and butterflies
And wait for the noisy cats to tire
Of chasing birds and sit beside
Us there. We listen to the wind,
We listen to our breaths, we feel
Our heartbeat, soft. Our time is ours.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your 11th Birthday

As we both lean back against the cafe wall,
The cool, white wall that’s lined with subway tiles,
And a nice but flustered barista makes our drinks,
Imaginary beasts flow through our minds.
Soft beasts, rough beasts, large and small, they growl;
They coo; they flutter about; they rest on doors
And window sills; yet no one else can see
Their fanged, horned faces or their fuzzy wings.
The rain pelts hard against the large glass pane;
The outside world is washed away. We wait
For soaking clothes to dry. “Hot chocolate!” calls
The cashier girl. We smile to hold the cups
And warm our hands. The rain keeps falling. Sounds
Blur. Thoughts drift. Wings resume their fluttering;
Small critters crawl; and big ones bark and howl
Across the ceiling, hanging down. The air’s
Abuzz with them, but no one’s noticed. Zoos
Would give a fortune for this menagerie
Of the mind. We laugh. They are ours. And no one else
Can have them. Wild, alive. We set them free.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 14th Birthday

This year you are a world traveler. Up
And down the Pacific Rim you go. First stop:
Japan. (You stood below where Little Boy
Departed the Enola Gay to change the world
Forever in a flash.) With barely time
To catch your breath, you found yourself beside
The sloths in Costa Rican jungles. Where
To next? It’d be no lie to answer just
“My high school!” right? After all, it is
Its own chaotic jungle full of strange,
Exotic creatures speaking languages
That no one knows, and dressing on the edge
Of what we might call fashions. Oh, the joys!
The sighs! The pains! The challenges! The hopes!
The changes! Every day, they wash across
You, waves of changes, oceans really now.
Embrace the weirdness — mohawks, miniskirts, sports,
And that thing, oh what’s it called? Homework, yeah.
For even on the longest days, when you
Can count the endless times a dust speck floats
Down, up, and back across a ray of light
In a Friday morning study hall, please know
So very, very soon it all shall pass
(And yes, you’ll pass your courses, do not fret),
And college waits with new and wilder lands
With jungles all their own for you to roam.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your 10th Birthday

Double digits! (Only 90 years till triple.)
So much change! This weekend alone even
Had swimming parties and sleep-overs.
What will we do in a year?
Who will you be in a year?
Who will you be in 10?

Thoughts dazzle round in my head.
Life can seem like a fugue by Bach,
The notes repeating but ascending
Building on each other in a spiral.

At times, you know, Johann thought his life
A waste; he could not see all the lives he touched
(A story we tell for Van Gogh and many others).
Let you always understand how much you matter
To me, and to all your family, my fascinating Violet.

Birthday Poems

For Olivia, on Your 13th Birthday

A cool day with blasting sun,
13 years ago, awaiting you.

Twilight fell and you announced
With vigor your imminent arrival.
Contractions were close apart,
The doula timing them with Swiss precision.
(She was after all from Interlaken.)

Los Angeles glowed its dirty neon glow
As we drove to the hospital.
The longest drive of my life
Was really only seven miles long.

Space and time will stretch and bend
To play with our awareness.
Years can jump by in a blink,
And then we can enjoy
Adventures in a single moment.

This night of yours, so long ago, so close at hand,
I merely close my eyes and I am there.
I relive it, that wild night, that happy instance
When I met you.

Birthday Poems

For Violet, on Your Ninth Birthday

Eight bells ring out eight times.
Then… a ninth rings nine,
Because it’s Violet’s day.
As nine dogs howl and bark,
Nine cats slink away into the dark
Here on Violet’s day.
Nine marching bands
March loudly across the land,
As nine apple blossoms
Wave in the wind above chrysanthemums
And underneath, snore nine sleeping possums
Who dream on Violet’s day.
And in our drizzly, rainbow town
I love to lean down
And give nine butterfly kisses
To the sweet little miss who is
The namesake of Violet’s day.