The Alchemy of Happiness

In this volume of verse, Bowering continues her rigorous, ambitious path and delivers poems that blend a variety of personalities, times, and places that add up to an overall substance she sees as happiness. Like an alchemist of old, she transmutes experiences, perceptions, and perspectives into something richer and rarer despite the passage of years and the loss and death they have brought.

Here are lines addressed to family, to a father and mother or, in this instance, to a daughter: “You are a stir of wind,/the scent of rare wood,/your mind mirrors the breath of sages,/your thoughts are new.” Places, imagined or as real as a moor in the Scottish Highlands, shimmer and shift like mirages: “In the air, are the tones of wet fingers/on wet glass rims, the harmonies/of water, peat, sedge, lake,/a cup of bottomless grey sky.”

Much of this startling new book takes the form of a calendar, and it is time that presides throughout, perhaps bringing hope, even happiness, as seen in “December”: “Death is of no consequence,/because there is eternity.”

Beach Holme Publishing 2003 ISBN 0-88878-435-X


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Robin, who is dead, says I should write poems,
I should write about my father,
who is old,
just like he wrote about his father.
A poet writes when looking at death:
a poet sees the crusted mouth,
skin like a slaked wall,
the knobs and veins of dear hands.
The poet sees that age is poverty,
and at the same time, feels the roistering breath
close to the heart of time.
My father lifts me, a baby, from the floor,
he sings in the kitchen making breakfast,
he fetches me home from my broken-down car,
he fills the cauldron of my failed heart with his love—
today, I looked into his eyes
and he thanked me.
A poet would write his rage,
not talk to the dead at night,
a poet would understand the great gift
of being loved
for so long
so well,
and drink deep,
salute the ghosts, elbow aside a place for himself in bed
next to his dad.

Love Poem for My Daughter
for Xan at fourteen

You are all the light in the world
gathered into a face,
your eyes deep space and stars—
who are you?
When you sleep, your breath stirs
the brooms of ages, dust shifts:
your skin is gold,
the past opens itself to your many dresses,
the night unravels its blue wool:
you stand on a far shore
about to set sail—
where are you going?
When you laugh,
the graves open, the dead put on makeup,
the souls of children wake up:
who will go in your company?
You are a stir of wind,
the scent of rare wood,
your mind mirrors the breath of sages,
your thoughts are new.
I called you and you came.
I loved you and you grew,
but who knew
this grace,
the wound flower in the heart’s chain?

October, 2

Above the hearth,
before the shelves holding three books,
a small cupboard
is sketched in air—
only her eyes can open it.
It holds the spirits
but on Saturday night
they come out.
They scent the room,
they trail through the debris
of hearts,
they examine the dead.
Her brother knocks
on their shared wall
at midnight.
He seems to say he is alive,
however he may appear
in a room with parents,
on the walk to school,
or as he hunches his neck
over homework.
He seems to say remember that I am alive,
if I forget.
She opens the cupboard door again
just in case
there is anything else,
and there is.


In her dream, while she is fainting from cold,
the child imagines a blackboard.
She draws a house, trees, a path, sunshine.
She is inside the house
eating pancakes.
She plays the piano,
sits on a beige carpet touching the lamp cord
softly to the socket.
Around her is a blanket of noise:
not the wind, not Lucifer filling her hollow bones
but the hiss of a swan,
its wings trembling fabulous air.
In December, “every form that you see
has its original in the Divine world.”
Death is of no consequence,
because there is eternity.
I bend my head to drink from the rivulet
of limitless waters.
Timeless water drips from
my lips. It is no substitute,
it does not remember intelligence or faith,
it cannot recall you to me—you who have finished
with this world.
Pass into the deep, if you must,
so that the one drop which is yourself
may become a sea:
but do not drown,
put on your shoes,
set out as if to visit me.

for Michael

There was snow thick as silver coins,
there was the silence
of broken windows.
The street was troubled
with the heels of the dead,
their broad calves
and trembling knees.
Their open mouths
swallowed our breath,
their wet hands touched my belly:
not here, I said,
and put down my suitcase.
The street stopped its wail
of wrongs,
the dead watched you kiss me,
take out the map,
say, I’m sorry, I’ll make it right.
They were pressed so close
I felt their ragged heart-beats,
the swoon of their longing
to be alive
and not dead
in the abandoned streets
in the dark below Sokolovska station
after midnight.
I saw the snow slide
from their black galoshes,
I saw the mud of the sewers
from which they’d climbed;
I was decades late
but I had come
on the last train
from Vienna
to the city
at midnight.
I can still see the torn paper
of the snow,
feel the vee of the roadway underfoot—
no one loved,
but rats fucked
on drainpipes,
on twisted bed frames,
in the wrenched doorways.
We climbed toward a light:
the dead clutched at my long coat,
my scarf, my heavy suitcase.
Their fingers tucked
into my buttonholes, they pulled,
but you held my hand
all the way to Sokolovska.
The soldier who came
could not help,
but the woman with him said,
“Help will come,
no harm will befall you,
it’s Christmas night.”