A Different Happy Life

A Different Happy Life



I used to picture your passage from Italy

as one long brutal trip in the swilling

humanity of the ship’s hold.

It turns out not all stories are so dark,

and your family was wealthy enough

to secure you a cabin. You drank

lemonade and played shuffleboard on the

sunlit journey to America.


You left behind the doctor you were to marry

and the nana who loved you

and the green mountains by the seaside

where cerulean waves crashed

over the rocky shore near your summer home,

a getaway from your family’s vineyard

before the looming war and

your dear papa’s ambitions took you away.


It would be two generations

before you returned by way of

the photographs I took, the closest

you would come to that life and

those memories, living so many years

in a home filled with love and

many other happy memories, infusing the air

with the scent of tomatoes and garlic.


Even if stories are not dark, there is sacrifice

and loss, so I wonder if you spent your time

alone imagining a different happy life,

the one you would have lived if

you hadn’t taken a course charted by others.

The same way I sit in my happy home and

picture some other happy life, fulfilling dreams

I barely allowed myself to dream.


 Lisa McNeilley

Lisa McNeilley, PhD, is married to her high school sweetheart, with two children and a monster-dog. She is co-author of DB Cooper and Me (Principia Media, 2018) . She also wrote Need to Know: A College Success Workshop (Caffeinated Press, second edition forthcoming), drawing on her academic experience to help students, often first-generation and low-income, manage the challenges of college. Lisa serves as president of the board of directors of Write616, a non-profit dedicated to supporting writers and the literary arts, and facilitator of the Cascade Writers' Group. She was editor of Imagine This! An ArtPrize™ Anthology for three years. This is her first foray into poetry, though she wishes she had started honing her skills years ago.





  1. Strong work from academia. Amazed and impressed.

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