A Cento by Erica Charis-Molling

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, we had no way of knowing what the future held. And when we launched The Hard Work of Hope in May 2020 in order to provide moments of reprieve and inspiration amidst the bleakness and uncertainty of the moment, we had no way of knowing how long this series would run for—or how necessary it would become.

Two years, more than 100 issues, and almost 190 poems later, the pandemic is far from over, and this series has grown far beyond our original vision for it. We have featured poems and writing prompts from our community that respond not only to the pandemic, but to the era of larger social, political, and personal upheaval we are living through. We have partnered with literary magazines and other poetry organizations, featured special folios curated by guest editors, and highlighted the work of young poets in conjunction with our U35 Reading Series. And we have tried, every week, to create a space where you can take a little time for yourselves, and read poems that make it easier to keep going.

There will always be moments of darkness. As we write this, the highest court in this country has overturned the constitutional right to abortion after a week of devastating and disastrous rulings. Just as there will be no clear end to the pandemic, there will be no clear end to the many horrors that face us. And too often hope—much like poetry—is framed, in the face of such horrors, as something frivolous or naive, a fanciful luxury.

It has been the mission of this series, over the past two years, to refute this—to be honest about the challenges of hope and, in doing so, offer more real avenues to it through poetry. Hope is not easy, or simple—it is real, serious, hard work. It is not uplifting slogans or empty optimism or one-dimensional displays of positivity. Ultimately, hope is rooted in the hard realities of the world, and the courageous choice to push forward and survive despite all that would destroy us, to create a better world for ourselves than the one we live in. It is no coincidence that when Pandora opened her jar, unleashing all the evils of the world, only Hope was left behind. Like poetry, hope is the work of the soul, and nothing could be more important.

The demands of hope change with the times, and we have to keep finding new ways to nurture and sustain our hope. In light of this, we have decided, for the time being, to suspend weekly issues while we reimagine the possibilities of what this series can be. For this final issue (for now), we decided to do something special—we invited this series’ original creator and editor to assemble a cento, a poem made up of lines from poems featured in The Hard Work of Hope. All poems featured in this series can be found on our website, and we hope you continue to turn to them in times when you need them. Thank you so much for reading, and supporting this series. Stay safe.

A Hard Work of Hope cento, beginning and ending with Kathleen Aguero
Erica Charis-Molling

Hope springs eternal, but
plans, I think, for various eventualities, and the existence of plans
just to be safe. Still, inside my body—
battlefields, tied to passenger pigeons
and we commit our anxieties to the air, for these anxieties
awaken at last to the sight
of deep wrinkles & bone;
the tense work of seeing emptiness.

No one will see me walk out before dawn.
Hand over Hand, we rise, do our jobs.
The world keeps disappointing
my heart. Bitter little fruit.
To live in this skin,
the only, and aren’t we
alone. Still
that rousing crescendo
flinging a bright new thing clotted in clay, a shawl
between our teeth as we pray to Allah for mercy.

i no longer wonder why mountains tend to form in ranges
I didn’t expect this extravagance
laughter and our sounds and our laughters and our laughter and
         our laughter and our laughter
and our sound and how I got you and

Dear child of the near future,
Here’s my permission. Take it. It’s alright to replace sirens
with the light shot through them.
All the old gray gods have fallen
in a field of decapitated corn stalks.
I’m trying to tell you that the world is beautiful. All the
burst spires strewn among their bluegrass lawns
imply that there are
wings that fold neatly under T shirts.

Make an oath: we aren’t in this together
until what you see through the window
is a prayer drawn in dust
to unwrap—then ride on—

Couldn’t we have tried harder? Predicted
the bullet. The gift of ghosting. The promise of
night. Look up: an owl thieves
first strawberries, then carnations. Roses
Ashes to oranges to a screwdriver
sometimes, are all we have left: Like even with all
your hollow eyes have seen—
how hard we all try

to see things could be worse
and then, sudden as a train’s blue note
we begin again
hope’s thankless, necessary pilgrimage.

Writing Prompt: A cento (from the Latin word for “patchwork”) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets. Grab an anthology, series, or set of books from a poet you wish to honor and gather lines from various poems. Then start trying to jigsaw them together, though just like a puzzle, don’t cut the piece to fit the hole! Move the lines around, intact, on the page until they snap into place and a new poem forms on the page. Make sure to cite your sources and give credit to the original in your title!

Erica Charis-Molling is a lesbian poet, educator, and librarian. Her writing has been published in literary journals including Relief, Tinderbox, Redivider, Vinyl, and Entropy. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and published in the 2021 Orison anthology. A Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow, she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University. She currently serves as Co-Editor-In-Chief at Solstice Literary Magazine. Her chapbook, How We Burn, was published as a part of the Robin Becker Series by Seven Kitchens Press in Spring 2022. Find more of her work at: https://ericacharis-molling.squarespace.com/