When the Guest Speaker Told Us

by Jennifer Saunders

we could make ourselves happy, we could learn
optimism, she would show us how, I held my face

very still and wore my most interested mask,
because she was a Guest Speaker

and I was sitting very close to the front of the room
and she had come a long way to speak to us

about Happiness and we were unable to pay her
with anything but lunch and a small gift and the gift

of our attention, which, she assured us, is a gift,
the giving of which makes both giver and receiver

happier. When the Guest Speaker told us
that unhappiness comes from a lack of perspective

to see another side to the story, that there is always
another side to the story and maybe

our greatest happiness will rise out of what we think
is loss, I placed my hands one over the other

on the notebook in my lap and tilted my head
in that way that says, I am thinking very hard

about what you are saying. I thought about the lotus flower
with its roots in the muck and I thought about all the ways

humans are not lotus flowers and I thought about the pill
I swallow every morning and how I wonder

if it makes any difference but which I am too scared to stop
swallowing because what if it is making a difference,

what if it is the cord tethering me to this world.
When the Guest Speaker told us that laughing

three minutes a day releases endorphins
and that a month’s worth of three minutes

can alleviate depression, I re-crossed my legs
and maintained eye contact with the Guest Speaker—

who was really a perfectly nice person and happy enough
for any two people and therefore immediately suspect

to me with my history of doctor’s visits and blister packs
of let’s-not-call-it-happiness, of sometimes-not-despair-

will-suffice—and wrote in my notebook: 1) laugh,
even if it’s fake, it still works. And when the Guest Speaker

told us to smile every day I did not roll my eyes
although I might have sighed loudly enough

for the Guest Speaker to hear but nevertheless
I wrote 2) smile. I looked at the Guest Speaker’s smile

and thought it was genuine and then I thought it was not
genuine and then I was troubled at the thought

of ungenuine happiness and wondered if genuine
unhappiness isn’t at least a more honest way

of moving through the world. And as if the Guest Speaker
had read my mind she said 3) move, get up and move,

it releases endorphins and you can dance
in your office when nobody is looking and your mood

will improve. And I want so badly some days  
to be the kind of person who keeps a gratitude journal

and believes in manifestations, who believes
that if I throw myself on the mercy of the universe

the universe will be merciful, that happiness is as simple
as mirror work, which people tell me is not easy,

because who can look in the mirror for three minutes
and say I love you, I love you, I love you

without bursting into tears over all the ways
we have not loved ourselves—but the Guest Speaker

told us that this is possible and today I am tired,
so tired, so why not, I think, why not, so today

I am laughing in my mirror, I am telling myself
the story of happiness. I do not know how it begins.

Jennifer Saunders lives in German-speaking Switzerland with her Swiss husband and their two hockey-playing Swiss-American sons. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, Stirring: A Literary Collection, ucity review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and in the winters she teaches skating in a hockey school.