Happiness: The Feeling of Increasing

Seagulls swooped over the schoolyard
when the nuns lined us up
in ragged rows to sing hymns
and pray for a series of abstractions—
The Conversion of Pagan England,
Holy Purity, and a Happy Death—
while the indiscriminate birds,
screeching victory, guzzled our lunches on the fly.
Hunger is the best sauce, my mother said,
and the dogs on our street were a case in point.
Cute as Christians with two names to prove it—
Peggy Ryan and Spot Shepherd,
Patch Medlar and Razor Hennessy—
their mismatched parts could make a cat laugh.
Agile dodgers of kicks and curses,
they could be counted on to manifest themselves
whenever food appeared.
In those days we knew that County Cavan people
ate their dinner from a drawer and certain Dubliners
would eat you without salt for looking crooked.
They say the gannets out by Sherkin Island
plunge thirty feet into the sea in search of food.
In time the force of water blinds them
and they starve to death on the rocks
while all around the sounds and smells
of what was once their life persist.
So to the ravens pecking at the pile of fur
on the soft shoulder of the highway,
cawing their contentment to the skies.
To all situations where the boundaries
between life and death are blurred,
remember: Life is the one that eats.

from Reliquaries by Angela Patten