“The Right to Joy” by Abby E. Murray

Abby E. Murray


It happened: I stepped
outside on a Tuesday
morning and, noticing
cloudlessness over the city,
the hydrangea happiness
of all that blue, I began
to doubt my delight,
suddenly aware of what
I turned away from
in order to turn toward
comfort. I called LeAnne,
thousands of miles away.
Just as I suspected: it was
raining where she was,
the sky dull as pencil lead,
the nights oozing past
on rivulets of fog.
Her last memory of a sunset
was two weeks old
and she was getting ready
to go for a walk anyway.
I hung up and refused
to enjoy the daylight
I hadn’t earned. I worked
in the basement
with the blinds drawn,
picking at my keyboard
like a starved chicken.
My fingers froze.
I couldn’t feel anything
I wrote. At lunch, I surfaced
in the kitchen to make
a sandwich and checked
the windows: the sky
was still there, brighter
now, emboldened even,
a blaze of sun
on the windowpane
like God peeping in
to laugh. Truly, the sky
above me was flawless
cerulean, not even airplanes
signing it in their fine script
as they floated up and down
the eastern seaboard.
I didn’t falter. I spent
a few more hours in the dark,
writing about greyness.
LeAnne called and asked
if I’d read the article about
the photographer who
found polar bears living
in an abandoned weather
station on a Russian island
in the Chukchi Sea:
a deserted village
of wooden buildings,
some half-collapsed, all
covered in rot and moss
and proof of a climate
dictated by storms and ice
and harshness, only
the broken windows
reveal less emptiness
than the photographer
or any of us expect:
massive polar bears
poke their faces over
the splintered sills to blink
at the camera, which is
attached to a drone
so as not to frighten them
too much, and I don’t speak
polar bear but in these photos
they seem to be saying
hello, this is ours now,
and I have to agree,
as I imagine the photographer
did, because I don’t think
anyone can disagree
with polar bears even
in pictures, even the ones
who seem pacified
and pleased, albeit by chance,
with their sudden luck,
which they must know
is theirs while they have it
because they have it
but not for always.
They are dying along
with the rest of us.
It isn’t fair or unfair.
A weather town was built
by humans for humans,
then claimed by bears
for the newly fortunate.
Since when have accidents
been just? Since when
does happiness choose
its beholder? The polar bears
curl up on their new porches
like they’re waiting
for a pie to cool.
They let the drone
do its thing. They let it leave.
I tell LeAnne I need
to get to the post office
before it closes and when
I open my front door
the afternoon is still
hanging on, still luminous
but goldening, more
bronze than blue now,
as if wizened, as if to say
I can take it or leave it,
this joy, this surprise gift,
this nectar of air I didn’t
grow or pay for but woke up
and found just the same,
as if to say it had only
one plan for its life
and that was to end
whether I savored it or not.

from Poets Respond
February 8, 2022


Abby E. Murray: “I was in the middle of writing about joy and who has the rights to it when it happens to them when I saw Dmitry Kokh’s photos of polar bears inhabiting the abandoned weather station/village on Kolyuchin, an island in the Chukchi Sea. They poke their heads out of the windows to get a look at the camera, which was mounted on a drone. They sniff the air. They sit on their bums in the grass. They curl up like dogs. Every time I see polar bears I think about how we are killing them, but damn, they look happy right now! My writing turned into this meditation on joy in the face of so many crises, even when it is gratitude for a blue sky in the midst of bomb cyclones, nor’easters, and climate change.” (web)

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