Leveler Poetry Journal
About Leveler Submission Guidelines More Poems

The Difficulty in Owning up to Happiness


summer is growing in my synapses.




a pair of diminutive cochlea correspondent
starts to court Anxiety.


a Gorgon is born.




wishes retrograde.

Mohana Das

levelheaded: The Difficulty in Owning up to Happiness


Because it’s written plainly, the title of this poem anchors it to a pretty simple idea—that it’s difficult to own up to happiness. In a poem that takes pains to avoid cliché, the phrase “owning up to” stands out for its idiomatic quality. The body of the poem, though, uses some acutely clinical language. The speaker says “synapses” to refer indirectly to “thoughts.” A moment later “a pair of diminutive cochlea correspondent” is a circuitous synecdoche for the ears. Even “retrograde” is a sort of technical, Latinate way to say “reverse.” But the poem’s title gives the body of the poem context, so we understand it as a description of a specific sensation.


We’re not told what the “difficulty” or the source of “happiness” might be. The “diminutive cochlea correspondent” seems to suggest something specific. But mostly, the speaker seems more interested in conveying that “summer”—as a stand in for happiness—dissolves into an abstract, capitalized “Anxiety.” Pleasure births the poem’s “Gorgon,” which does a lot of work signifying the paralyzing terror that prevents the speaker from admitting happiness.


In one sense, “retrograde” describes the “wishes.” In another, “retrograde” is a verb that tells us what the “wishes” are doing. They are backwards, reversed. But they may also play a role in the speaker’s backslide from “summer” to “Anxiety.” The “wishes” are part—maybe all—of what makes “owning up to happiness” so difficult. We might extrapolate that the speaker feels guilty for some reason, or that “summer” triggers a bad old memory. But that is beside the point. The poem is content to stop at the fact of the retreat of the speaker’s happiness. The poem resists the urge to tell us more. Its brevity and fragmentation push this resistance to the leading edge of the poem. And ultimately, it enacts and validates the speaker’s “difficulty.”


-The Editors