“You are going somewhere”: “Hush”

Jessica L. Walsh

Today I’m writing about a living poet, Liz O’Connell-Thompson, who happens to be a wonderful person I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few times around Poetryville. The poem is a short one:


On nights without sleep,
remember rattling down the highway
in the back seat where you learned
the curves of the way home with your eyes closed.

The Earth is moving;
you are going somewhere.

Why this one? When I was little, sometimes for a big treat or when school shopping came around, we’d drive down to Grand Rapids, about two hours from home. These were long days, and we’d usually return after dark. Dark, for the hour or so north of Muskegon, is *dark,* the kind of dark a lot of people never experience. Stars were as uncountable as leaves in the daytime. My folks were usually talking in low, familiar tones to each other about what they’d spent and how they’d find the money to cover it. My sister would be next to me, ignoring me fully. There weren’t many radio stations–absolutely no good ones–and we could rarely agree on music, so often the car would be otherwise quiet. Just the drone of tires on pavement, my parents’ voices, my own breathing. It was, in fact, hushed.

I’d stare up to the stars and wonder the great, terrifying questions that come to a hypersensitive kid on her way to becoming a poet: What are we, and why? What waits for us? How can any of us survive the loss of each other? I’d try to find God in the stars, but often I’d feel a sort of overwhelmed worry about loss and death. The beauty of a night sky was, to me, a sort of spangled curtain over…nothing. And I wanted so badly to feel the opposite, that these were the heavens. I wanted comfort. Those mingled feelings of unease and awe are what I think of when I read this poem. I’m a little kid, head leaning against the window of whatever car had not quite broken down yet, struck by the gorgeous stars and afraid of being human.

I’ve never been great at sleeping. I actually only found out recently that there are people who actually sleep all night–I’d thought it was a kind of oversimplification, like saying “vacation was perfect” because overall it was great and who wants to dwell on the shitty parts. But the point is that there are, among us, people who sleep all night! In the solitude of insomnia, I often try to think of calming scenes and sensations. That doesn’t help! But it does give me a sense of doing something, of getting somewhere, and the poem meets me there, too.

So between the childhood memories and insomnia, this is a poem that fits into my mind like a key. What a gift it is, to find something like that, a poem that captures something that I’d always thought it impossible to describe. What the poem does beyond my deeply personal connection is give an anchor to those adrift. Do I feel helpless or overwhelmed? Like I am constantly buzzing with energy but never getting anywhere? The poem tells me: “you are going somewhere.” I stop and think about the earth, how it’s carrying me forward every moment, how going nowhere is literally impossible. The night is indeed vast and tight-lipped. We don’t control our destination, not in our parents’ cars and not in our lives. But we’re going somewhere.

Somewhere there’s a poem you wrote, or maybe one of mine, that met a reader the way “Hush” met me: with absolute understanding. What a trip it is, writing a few lines that just might see into the part of a person no one else will meet.

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