Is there anyone in the world
who has never felt like a bad person?

These are the things you have stolen, you confess:
cookies from a jar when you were three
a couple of twenties from your father’s wallet
an idea from a classmate—
you couldn’t help it;
it was right there
a girl your good friend loved.

I’m not who everyone believes I am, you say,
and I reply, It’s okay, I’m not everyone.

These are the things you don’t deserve, you fear:
a clean slate
a place on top of a pedestal,
shining like a trophy perched surely
on a shelf, for everyone
to admire
a happily ever after
the right to make

Your mind clouds with doubt, worry that you will not
be a better man, but my heart is awash with the well-lit
certainty that you already are.

Know this:
know that this happiness is yours
from now on, always
it has not been handed to you;
it has been earned
through the years you have lived,
built, cared, carried
a vision of greatness inside of you,
through the years you have persisted,
planted your feet firmly on the ground,
gritted your teeth against the sadness,
disappointment, loss—it’s not like
you have been spared of a crushed heart pressed, squeezed
into a chink in the armor half its size so that it would stay
in place, where it belongs—it’s not like
you’ve never been hurt yourself.

And I know you hate it when people say
You Deserve It instead of Congratulations—
because what about the people who worked
hard, tried hard, prayed
hard, fucking wanted it
so much only to watch it evaporate like fish piss; what about them?—
but you deserve it,
you do.

You say, I feel like I will always be trying
to keep the demons on the other side of the gate, and I tell you,
Good. Don’t ever stop.

My mind is wide open, free, and my love is
yours; you don’t need permission to
take it.

You are better now
that the happiness is home
and you can clutch it to your chest
sew it onto your sleeve
wake up to it
breathe it in every minute
tack it up on your bedroom wall
Ziplock it
laminate it
blog about it
write a song about it
write a novel loosely based on it
make a t-shirt out of it
kiss it gently
kiss it awkwardly
kiss it hard
tell it a dumb joke
make it an afternoon snack
bake it a cake
share it with your parents
share it with the world
stay in on Sundays with it
grow old with it
be silent with it
stuff it into your pockets
carry it around with you wherever you go.
You are better now,
don’t fumble.

{Published in From This Day Forward, Summit Books}