My husband jokes that I should sit in the Jacuzzi chair lift. I have on a black tank top and black underwear—I didn’t even pack a swimsuit—but it’s late on a Thursday night and no one else is in the hotel hot tub. We have arrived in Redding, a city up I-5 that until this Thursday night we have simply driven past. Our children are grown and gone; this is the year before we plan to retire. I tell you this because it seems joy is easier in a world we now believe is not forever. Under a nearly full moon, my husband presses the steel button and the long metal arm lowers the chair into a hot fizz—first my toes, then my feet and up to my thighs, all of me tingling as I enter. I am laughing because it is ridiculous but unexpectedly lovely, because I just might be a woman at the edge of her life, climbing backwards out of cold into pleasure.


What exactly does the infant body sense? For the first six months after my daughter was born, I left her with her father for an hour every night so I could drive around Berkeley, looking for the right spot to down a lethal dose of sleeping pills with a fifth of whiskey. I was younger than my daughter is now when the OB first handed her over to me, and every hour that followed felt like crossing a wire strung over Niagara Falls. Week after week, I didn’t sleep because I was so terrified that I wouldn’t hear her cry. I say this because my greatest wish was to be a better mother than my own. Now, thirty years later, my first born is at my kitchen table, writing out lesson plans for her second-grade class—questions like, Would you rather have a koala bear or a dolphin for a pet? Please explain. She’s lit a vanilla-scented candle that she brought with her from her apartment in the city. Says, Mama, remember when you told me that I was a genius at living well? It’s true. I know how to be happy.


Joy is not a given. Perhaps you remember nothing happy from your childhood, and you have to make it up. Perhaps you have to come to joy the way a jet rushes awkwardly, heavily, creaking and groaning down the runway before it can gather enough speed to enter sky. Maybe, like me, in the last few decades of your life here on earth, you look up at the river of crows returning from the farmers’ fields at dusk and imagine that there must have been one time when your mother did not turn away but instead lifted you out of the crib into her arms—and though she never sang again, just that once, a lullaby escaped her lips, and both of you, delighted by the surprise of it, soared.

About the Author

Julia B. Levine

Julia B. Levine’s fifth collection of poetry, Ordinary Psalms, was published in March 2021 by LSU Press. Her awards include the 2015 Northern California Book Award for Poetry for Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight (LSU, 2014).

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