On Your Birthday by Abby E. Murray

On Your Birthday

When it isn’t a milestone
but some odd number
between multiples of ten,
when it falls on a Tuesday
and you celebrate by eating
yogurt alone at the sink
or cooking for those
who ought to feed you,
when it disguises itself
as any cold, damp day
and arrives like junk mail,
unconcerned with
the hundreds of thousands
of hours you’ve survived
on a temperamental planet
with a temperamental species,
when the anniversary of you
looks nothing like a gift
and brings you only
the absence of wonder,
find the nearest bit of light
in the room. Any scrap
will do, that sliver pressed
beneath the bathroom door,
maybe, or the quarter-sized
warmth in the palm of your hand
when you stand just so
at the kitchen window at noon—
it needn’t be bright or even
visible to seem impossible,
waves of energy through
nothingness, since nothingness
itself is a kind of space reserved
for brilliance. All this tiny shine,
the light you can reach
right now, is for you, from me,
because I say so. Take it.
What better way to accept a gift
than with empty hands?
Doesn’t it seem to blush
deeper when you know it is yours?
On your almost forgotten birthday,
I claim all that glows or flares
right here for you. It’s outrageous,
I know, but who’s to stop me?
Let’s get drunk on rights
no one suspected we’d claim.
Who will tell you a streetlamp’s gleam
on the hood of a neighbor’s Honda
can’t be yours? Nobody. So it is.
Enjoy it, secretly if you want,
and notice you’ve been noticed,
know somebody loves you
the way daylight loves
a windowpane, consistently,
the way a yellow lamp loves
an otherwise darkened room.


Abby E. Murray is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal concerned with the impact of violent conflict and military service beyond the combat zone. She teaches rhetoric in military strategy to Army War College fellows at the University of Washington. After serving as poet laureate for the city of Tacoma, Washington, she recently (and temporarily) relocated to Washington DC.