But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
“You can’t have it all,” by Barbara Ras
I stumbled across this yesterday, in the middle of a rush hour commute after a day a little higher on the stress level than the previous. I overslept, missed a meeting, and left the house in a tornado of flung blankets and almost-forgotten necessities, tripping up endless flights of stairs in too-crowded metro queues, juggling umbrella and bag and coffee, zooming through back-to-back meetings which give me yet more things to do, rushing and panting and fretting and hurrying until this entire adventure seemed a bit too big for me.
Life gets too big so easily. I go to bed feeling completely competent, absolutely confident. And then something little gets me tense, throws it all out of whack and makes me doubt my abilities and purpose and everything else. It’s dreadful. And it’s difficult to combat. And I’m just going through the motions until the feeling passes.
Until I get to take a moment, catch my breath and think. And remember I love this stuff. And I’m good at this stuff. And I can’t have it all, things won’t always be perfect, but I can do this.
And I can carpe the hell out of this diem, regardless of momentary mishaps.