POETRY December 2, 2022

How to be Happy 

At four comes your first visit to the natural-history museum. Race to the interactive display about fossils. Armed with a grubby brush, you glean a box of shredded rubber for fake bones. Learn that discovery’s an act of hands. Unearth a replica T. Rex skull. Go tell a docent, every adult within earshot. It’s here you take to digging.

17, you’re still a kid uncovering what’s hidden, unsure now who to tell. Nights in cars with boys dubbed friends—it’s not a lie but isn’t the whole truth. You cruise through different neighborhoods at a speed where longing bumps uncertainty. Where all discovery’s an act of hands. One night, fingers search an eager lap. Don’t tell your girlfriend what you found.

Learn to leave things buried too. Learn never to speak of lows when everything’s caved in for days. Everything’s left tar-stained. The same thought bubbles up. Toss it in a hole for things you want to lose, kick dirt over till it’s hidden. You drop pills in your mouth. Most days, you worry about losing pills, what happens when that happens.

20’s when you fall in love. Literally, you fall. Walking to that first date, stumble on a rock and faceplant in a ditch. You pry the stone up from the dirt. You want to give it to them—that and everything you find. The corniness must mean that something’s right. Don’t stop kissing them if possible, parting their mouth with your lips. You want to know each thing their body holds. You want to tell them everything; you almost do. Almost. 

Dream you’re a kid again, clutching an old spade. Crouch at a riverbank and try uncovering a buried treasure. Jab rocky shore and unearth trinkets: necklaces and jewelry, rings. Toss the items in the water—because none of it is what you’re hunting. Isn’t what you left there years ago. You don’t remember where the treasure is. You don’t remember what you’re looking for. 

You learn to hide the cutting. Anxiety turned itch, an urge to make space in the skin. To dig again. What started young that never stopped. Your love can’t help when you don’t tell them, are so quick to craft excuses. Stage accidents while cooking, being careless with a garden hoe. You try to throw harm in the hole. The shovel head keeps gleaming. 

Three years ago, you bought a dress. Something plain but classic: shale colored with some opalescent buttons. Wearing it is like rain running through a porous stone. You cannot let that flooding go. Grow your hair and buy more dresses; hew rock to how you need it. 

You and your love start keeping houseplants. You live in green, enamored with the way things rise from soil. Nest cuttings in the clay pots that your love throws. Roots stretch, leaves rise up to the sun. Grin at the dirt below your nails.

CD Eskilson is a trans poet, editor, and translator from Los Angeles. Their work appears in The Offing, Ninth Letter, Waxwing, Pleiades, and elsewhere. They are a three-time Best of the Net nominee, an Assistant Poetry Editor at Split Lip Magazine, and an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, where they received the Walton Family Fellowship in Poetry and the Lily Peter Fellowship in Translation.