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content warning: this poem contains mentions of self-harm


(After Hopkins)

Sharon Kennedy-Nolle

It’s not about you anymore,
hope, my cardinal sin.

I’ve run out of recall and no one else’s sharing their stories
and that leaves me in the middle
of this trestle bridge,
staring off, smarting still
from your cursed crimson flight
across frozen water, where blown snows streak,
squiggling closest to ghost.

The therapists insisted you were a must,
had to keep you on the wing, going the distance,
those guardrailed miles between institutions
until he would just outgrow this,
like ear infections or bedwetting.

Your bright-blooded flutter
made me look the other way,
saying, “Someday, he’ll go back to school. Find himself,”
when he cried in the shower.

Hope kept the glass half full,
a needed drink after steering him through
lunch and a movie on the half-day pass.

Hope kept me humoring him along,
like any other kid who eventually declares, “You know I never asked to be born!”

Only he added, “Please, Mom, respect my choice
to leave the world.
I was given none to enter it.
Love, your son.”


Scar Tissue​

It’s not about you anymore;
I’ve run out of recall and no one else ’s sharing
and that leaves me in the middle
of this trestle bridge,
staring off, smarting still
from the curse of hope,
which made me look the other way,
saying, “all you need is more time, and you’ll get better.”
as you hid under the bed or cried in the shower.
Hope kept the glass half-full,
so I could keep drinking after a day
spent steering you through
free time signed out on a pass.
Hope kept me humoring you along,
when you said,

“Please, mom, respect my choice to leave the world;
I was given none to enter it.”
Hope made me miss the wake-up call
when the waters closed over you forever.
And hope damned me with having to live
with these little white lies
Mist over me, lonely salve
for so much scar tissue.


Gerard Manley Hopkins,1844-1889

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?


O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
        He comes to brood and sit.

This poem went through about six or seven drafts. The original ("Scar Tissue," above) had the core irony of the necessity of keeping hope alive in the face of disaster. The first draft has a long on-ramp, which mourns the inevitable shift from shock and grief for the son to the long aftermath of loss for the speaker that happens with time’s passage. At line ten I find my real subject and begin to use the anaphora of “hope” to flesh out how critically a person needs hope in order to cope and yet how it also dangerously leads one to wear blinders to the seriousness of a crisis.


A friend tipped me off to Hopkins’ poem, “Peace.” I borrowed Hopkins’s first line (changing it from Peace to Hope) and his use of an apostrophe in the first stanza to structure my entire poem. This structuring eventually took the focus off me and anchored the poem more on my son’s struggles with addiction and mental illness as I stood by in support and hope that he would recover. I also used Hopkins’s personification of peace as a bird, in my case a cardinal.


Subsequent drafts expanded on the apostrophe. But I felt I was overwriting, so I began cutting back extra stanzas and then extra words with each draft.

There really was nothing else to say (how could there be?) after citing his final note.

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