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What Will You Miss about These Hard Years?

by Chelsea Dingman

In a dense forest, a child holds onto my legs
& says, I won’t let you get lost,

& it is about to rain, & everything is new, & I am not
too afraid of love to stand still.

This poem came about last summer after I’d been laid off from a job that I’d taken in the corporate world, post-MFA. Having worked through the pandemic, it was the first real time I’d had to spend with my three-year-old daughter. I was about to begin my PhD. I had so much fear and uncertainty at that moment. My daughter was born ten years after my youngest son because I hadn’t been able to sustain a pregnancy over that time, then I had little time to spend with her, and that time was fraught. Yet, last summer I spent every day outside with her, hiking the trails through the river valley near our house. When I stopped to listen and look around, I realized that she was a sort of anchor in those moments. In my head, all jumbled up, were the years when my older kids were small. I kept thinking that I hadn’t been present enough in being productive. I also hadn’t been able to displace my fears about their safety, their futures, or whether I was failing them. Embedded in the occasion of the poem, when it rose, was a little bit of hope that I had not allowed myself since I’d gotten pregnant. The poem, in refusing narrative, asked me to look directly at my fear to look away.

Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series. Her second book, Through a Small Ghost, won the Georgia Poetry Prize. A third collection, I, Divided, is forthcoming from LSU Press in 2023. Dingman’s work can be found in The Southern Review, The New Republic, and Kenyon Review, among others. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Alberta.