Ten Poems from the Street of Happiness

By Ken Norris


Getting postcards from the impossible, reading what’s written there
in red and black ink. Posted in a purple envelope, the cards
without stamps or address. The Images: a big-mouthed
Martha Raye, with reddest lipstick, shouting
a thin eyebrowed forties hello. And, in calmer mode,
two women of Tahiti seated pensively on a broad pandanus mat,
amidst the tropic colours foreign dreams
and thoughts nestled in their heads. On the written sides
the impossible says what it must always say,
in the warmth of its remoteness.

And you will never tire of wanting
what cannot be possessed. The impossible
charms you with its candour, its joy, with its
inspiring across-the-room wave.

Unlike what’s possible, the impossible
has no secret intentions. It just smiles
its enigmatic smile and moves on,
head in the clouds,
wearing its yellow shoes.


The mind begins to cascade
at the end of the day.

It can’t attach its hooks
to reality.

It just slides off
in a sloppy direction, wanting sleep.

I’ve run it around
through the green rigours of the day,

and now its wants to commune
with a sky full of stars.

Though it can’t comprehend them
as they flicker there in the baffling dark.


I’ll pull together the catalogue
of various things, a miscellany
of this and that, exercising my being.

Walking the paths of the world,
I’ll wave hello to strangers,
and move along.

I’m never staying long
in any one condition.
I get restless, you see.

I move from point to point,
feeling loss every time
I must depart.

To gather new specimens
for my burgeoning catalogue
of various things.


I don’t pay them any mind.
I just let them disappear.

Time drops by
and carries them off,
and their tedious works
are carried off too, flailing.

The eighteenth century
didn’t need to be reprised
after all.

Oh, they were a band
of formal fellows,
and their formality
almost touched me.

But life and art
are about more than etiquette,
and when permitted
to be themselves
they demonstrated
venal tendencies
and abysmal manners.


The old road is congested
with trucks.

The old road winds too far
and takes too long.

The old road may be colourful,
but it’s a hassle.

You spend extra hours
wondering if you’ll be crushed
by the elephant trucks
that surround your modest vehicle,
that too often
send you heading for the ditch.

The old road may have been good enough
for someone’s grandfather,
but your father certainly didn’t like it,
and, henceforth, you’ll refuse
to take it.


There’s sadness in the rain,
there’s sadness in the blue
of the sky.

And sadness is a weight
borne by all beings.

We meet, only to depart
in sadness.

As our friend
is lowered into the ground
and we feel the weight of sadness
everywhere around and within us.

It’s an impermanent world,
and the corrosive acid of living
eats away at everything.

We’re all on the train
heading for Oblivion—
every last one of us.

Now make a case for happiness.


She was a thin Indonesian woman
of indeterminate age,
squatting there in the street,
with great dignity
meticulously going through
the plastic bags of garbage
that had been put out
by the businesses,
looking for something to eat.

I gave her some money.
I should have called her mother
and given her everything I own.


It wasn’t worth
the paper it was printed on.

Maybe it was.
Perhaps it is.

The counterfeit versus the true.

It’s an interesting wrestling match,
and not too many
want to take it up.

Like the carpet,
it’s too much trouble.

So carpe diem
and see you later.


When you reach the middle
it is actually closer to the end.
Don’t ask me why it’s so.
I’ll just say, “One
of life’s mysteries.”

But you see the seam
and the way the whole thing
was constructed, though
no one ever tells you
how or why.

So you are in the middle
(which is closer to the end),
you understand how it’s built
even if you can’t say why,
and someone steps forward
to offer you a smile.

You had better accept it.
It is actually
what you came for.


Big orchestrations,
grand pronouncements,
autumn testaments,
they were never my style.

I’ll raise my children,
write my poems,
teach my classes,
listen to the music when it’s audible,
detail the landscape when it’s visible,
touch beauty when beauty
allows me to touch it.

When the teams head north
I’ll watch the baseball season unfold
one game at a time,
talking with my friends
on the road to October.


Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He emigrated to Canada in the early seventies, where he quickly became one of Montreal’s infamous Vehicule Poets. He became a Canadian citizen in 1985. Ken Norris teaches Canadian Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Maine.


Copyright © Ken Norris 2012