“The Happy Game” by Sean Kelbley

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2018: Editor’s Choice


Eat Me by Nicolette Daskalakis

Image: “Eat Me” by Nicolette Daskalakis. “The Happy Game” was written by Sean Kelbley for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2018, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Sean Kelbley


was hard. Only kids could have
invented it. The girl sat on the toilet

and the boy sat on the bath mat,
criss-cross-applesauce. The father

filled a Dixie cup and stepped
into the closet. Most days,

he closed the door and walked
straight through and opened/

shut the bedroom door and gave
the pill and came right back.

Other days, he stood between the

doors a while and thought of Narnia,

or being airlocked in a passage
on the Space Station.

The girl would shake the plastic bottle,
which had once held fish oil supplements,

impatiently. It made the dad remember when
the cat went missing, and his mother

wouldn’t call for it, but shook and shook
its dry food in the little silver bowl. And

he would picture how the kids had scraped
the jelly beans across the kitchen island,

counting batches out like pharmacists.
It seemed too big, the thing that made his

wife inert and gray and distant as the mashed
potatoes everyone kept pushing farther back

inside the fridge. But he’d agreed to take
the medicine. They drank the jelly beans

with water from the cup the mother/
wife had used, because that was a rule.

I’m feeling happier, the girl
or boy would say. Me, too,

the other would agree.
Then they’d do happy things,

like scoop mud from the creek
if it was nice outside,

and turn a frisbee upside-down
to make a pottery wheel.

They played The Happy Game
until it just turned into life.

The times the father cried
were fast and quiet.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2018, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “’The Happy Game’ is so imaginative I don’t think even kids could have invented it. The world of these 21 couplets is so rich in detail it feels as though you could walk right in—even the supporting characters seem real, as much as I hope they aren’t. It’s a poem that could have been a screenplay—all in a two-minute read. There were a lot of excellent poems submitted this month, but none more memorable.”

Rattle Logo