You Can’t Have It All


But you can have two hungry dogs, restless and pestering for bowls of kibble, teeth gnashing, playful wrestling, and finally the blissed out crunching, water lapping.  A blurred line between animal and human, endless battles for space on the couch.

You can have the gentle rustle of a baby waking up slowly, turning, sitting up, smiling and flopping back down into the warm nook of your arm, your own eyes still mostly closed. His little heart beating with energy ready for a new day. And the morning fires, slow boiling kettle, long wait for first cup of tea.

You can’t have time to paint like before, but you can have your camera, and an eye for beauty, and a herd of elk grazing out you window in the dawn mist.

You can’t have running water, but you have buckets and strong arms to bring water from the river, patience to heat it slowly when the weather turns cool, a whole afternoon once a week, dedicated to having a bath.

You can’t have marble and opulence, pristine open space, austere minimalism and grandeur. But you can have your grandma’s crochet afghans, smelling like dog, the old golden chair that your mother nursed you in, and where your father read Goodnight Moon to his two little daughters, one in each arm.  You can have a wooden floor that is never clean, the constant movement of dirt.

You can’t have the ones who broke your heart, but you can have the one who won’t let it go, your head buried in his chest that feels like the ocean, holding you safe and unsinkable.

You can have fistfuls of peanut m&ms, Seinfeld DVDs, and sweet banter texting with your dad while you wait for your love, headlights emerging from the trees, the uproar of barking dogs at dusk, the sudden excitement, “Papa! Papa! Papa!”

You can’t have your dearest friends living close by, but you can have the meadow, the ring of familiar trees changing with the seasons, the morning chorus, the watchful mountain, the flooding rain and river surge.

You can’t have sweet nothingness, a day without chores, but you can have cottonwood fluff falling so soft in June, like little snowflakes, wishes, and you can have the swallows and the scent of sweet peas.

You can’t have a garden without getting dirty and you’ll never have enough time to do it all. You have creeping buttercup, and sheep sorrel, slug wars, mouse poo, cabbage moth, mould. You have the sharp prick of thistle underfoot, memories of a sea of them, now few and far between. You have progress slowly unfolding.

You can’t have your mother earthside, to know as a woman, but you can have her visit your dreams, and you can remember her hands, her touch, her soft skin. And you have your childhood, still so alive in you, still so clear.

You can have music and laughter,  the sound of rain on a metal roof and shelves of beautiful books waiting to be read. You can have jars and jars of dried herbs, decoctions simmering on the stove. You can have the smell of woodsmoke in your hair.

You can have nostalgia in the turning seasons, especially in summer’s end, when the air becomes crisp again, the eagles chatter, the salmon in the river. Leaves beginning to litter gold, yellow ochre.  Spider webs, rose hips, blackberry.

You can have a sore back and you can have doubt and courage at the same time. You can have your baby, as many kisses as you like, you can have every early moment of his life. You can have motherhood in all it’s surrender and joy. But you can’t hold him like this forever.

You can’t have certainty, or control. Ever. But you can have freedom. You can have unpredictable days that nonetheless unfold in series of familiar rhythms. You can have a home that you love, that is built out of your dream, your hard work and effort and your will to never give up, to give it all.

You can’t have it all, but there is this.


****This is my own version of a poem by Barbara Ras, called “You Can’t Have It All” As soon as I read it, I thought, everyone should write this poem for themselves. Thank you Barbara, for the inspiration.






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.

-Barbara Ras

One Comment on “You Can’t Have It All

  1. Stunning words from a Pure Heart 💓 love your writings such a gift. Much Gratitude, Shar 🙏

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