Last updated on March 26th, 2019 at 10:43 pm

The Difference Between Happiness and Contentment

“Happy?” I asked my girl friend long ago,
my long-ago girl friend
as she lay one day
looking peaceful.

Content,” she dreamily replied,
and I wondered
is there really a difference
or is she letting slip
some shade of disharmony
with what I saw as
the perfection of
our being together.

I found out soon enough,
when abruptly on another day
I thought was perfect,
she announced, “I’m breaking up”

and all these years
I’ve believed the two words
are really the same.

Then, a little while ago
I drove a winding, wooded,
semi-rural road while listening
to a book I love,
to get to the quiet
cafe where I sit now,

and a single word
bubbled up:

Yes, I realized, a difference:
“Happy” is the shining sun;
“content,” the peaceful valley
soaking up its rays.

Blessed Afternoon

Every glance at the world
is a sweet scoop of bliss
ladled into my eyes
by the most tender hand.

White Guy in an Asian Supermarket

Ranch Market 99.
The new Asian superstore!
As the white guy enters,
Pushing his cart, he sees
there’s no need to worry
God’s imagination’s running dry.

Great ships still dock in San Francisco, LA, New York.
Fishing boats throw up their catch.
Tropical produce is hauled
in containers raised onto trucks,
unloaded, and arranged
in these exotic mountains.

Dragon fruit stares in his face,
red, something from a dream.
A dozen kinds of mushrooms
from a dozen fairy tales.
Strange stalks he’s never seen,
with names he’s never heard:
Pink pomelo, like grapefruit
blown up with a pump.
Banana flower buds.

In the seafood section
dozens of black bass
tread water in a crowded tank
next to a roomier one
swimming with silver carp.
In a third, big-eyed jumbo shrimp,
looking wise, have fun
dive-bombing to the depths,
then letting themselves be carried
back up by the tank’s water jets.

Signs say “Fish Paste” and “Soak Squid”
—more pleasant dissonance!
Two dozen fish species lay
on ice, as though sun-bathing.

It’s morning. The aisles
are just beginning to
awaken with questing shoppers.

America’s new face, he thinks
as he pays and goes outside.
And for a little while, what he sees there
is also a strange bazaar.


I’m working on a major work on cities
To tell people they are all the same,
and different—

That we live through these cities
To transform all our personal cities
Into an Ideal City,
The ideal remnants of our experiences,
Our loving goodbyes to this world.

To know cities we must go off somewhere
A year, two years, maybe five,
Then come back. Go off to a desert,
To the top of a mountain somewhere
And live with the eagles’ “Creeeeeeee”
In the high clouds,

Then come back and see
The buildings reaching clouds,
Crying out loud to the clouds
And see how from far off
They’re perfect abstract sculptures,
Monuments of intellect soaring,
Needle-spires towards God,

And from close up
They become citadels of tears,
Penthouses of pent-up emotion,
And how a million people
Have cried in the streets below.

I don’t hate these cities,
I love them, I admire them
As I do giant beasts in photographs,
In zoos, in the wild,
But I approach them with caution.

I only go round in cities
When I have something to do.
Otherwise, they appear as yawning traps,
Pools of tears on each corner,
Eyes of people inviting me
To orgies of hate and terror.

To live in a city,
Or even to live on a mountain
With the people of a city
Enshrined in one’s heart,
One must know that there are no
Random pathways in this world.
All pathways are pathways of learning.
Each person’s life is a path.

In cities we must tread lightly,
Or we will step on other people’s hearts.
Then we will see things
We are not supposed to see.

Cities, I will know you a long time yet.
I respect your enormity.
Someday I will graduate from your school.

Read more poems by Max Reif>>

image: jcookfisher (Creative Commons BY—no changes)

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