Joy

What never comes when called.
                                             What hides when held.
Guest
          most at home where least
                                              expected. Vagrant
balm of Gilead.
                               What, soon as here,
                                                             becomes
the body’s native ground and,
                                           soon as not,
its banishment.
                        Coming and going,
                                                   indifferent,
magisterial.
                   My lovely daughter—
walking me to the car
                                 to say goodbye
the day I left
                      to keep watch at my brother’s
bedside—
               suddenly
                            singing “I
feel pretty, oh so
                            pretty”
                                        as she raised
her arms up in a loose oval
                                        over her head
and pirouetted all along the walk.

Savage
          and magisterial—
                                     the joy of it,
the animal candor of
                                 each arabesque,
each leaping turn and counterturn,
                                                    her voice
now wobbly
                with laughter,
                                       “And I pity
any girl
             who isn’t me
                               tonight.”
Savagely beautiful,
                              not so much like
the lion that the camera
                                     freezes
                                                 in mid-
pounce, claws
                     outstretched for the stumbling
                                                                   antelope,
as like the herd
                         escaping
                                     that the camera
pans to, zig-
                     zagging,
                                  swerving as one,
their leaping strides now
                                       leaping higher,
                                                               faster,
even after,
                it seems,
                               the fear subsides—
after the fear and
                            the relief
                                             they keep
on running
                for nothing but
                                          the joy of running,
though
          it could be
                               any one of them
is running
                  from its fallen
                                           mother or father,
sister or brother,
                            across the wide
                                                      savanna,
under a bright sun
                              into fresher grass.

Alan Shapiro, “Joy” from Song and Dance. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.
Source: Song and Dance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)
More Poems by Alan R. Shapiro