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You Can't Have It All by Barbara Ras

You Can't Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August, you can have it August

and abundantly so. You can have love, though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys until you realize foam’s twin is blood.

You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs, so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind, glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness, never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you all roads narrow at the border.

You can speak a foreign language, sometimes, and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead, but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands as if they meant to spend a lifetime together.

And you can be grateful for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts, for passion fruit, for saliva.

You can have the dream, the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand. You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed, at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.

You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump, how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards, until you learn about love, about sweet surrender, and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind as real as Africa.

And when adulthood fails you, you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept. There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s, it will always whisper, you can’t have it all, but there is this.

This Poem is “You Can’t Have It All” by Barbara Ras, from her 1998 poetry collection Bite Every Sorrow (public library). Poem found in Maria Popova's Brainpickings.

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