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 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 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 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…