Tina Kelley: On "Three Endings"

This poem, "Three Endings," in its three sections, encapsulates the three main inspirations I use when writing – minutiae from daily life, travel, and research. In the first stanza, I was inspired by a ride home from the house of relatives, a ride we take about every two weeks. For once, I noticed the beauty of the glow of holiday lights in the window of a third-floor apartment in one of the rough neighborhoods we passed. I realized if I were dying, as my mother was at the time–and aren’t we all, a little bit, all the time, anyway?-I would really hate the idea of never seeing holiday lights again.

The stanza came straight from a tumbling journal entry:

And as we drove mom home from church, “In the Bleak Midwinter” on the radio, through a shabby town with three-story wooden apartment buildings, simple old Christmas lights around a window frame here and there, and she is so old, always clutching her wadded tissue in her hand, slower than slow to get up or take three steps, if I imagine myself in her situation, I am so afraid of the dark, how pretty even those lights are, and what if I can't see them next year. 

I’d also seen how communities of friends and family were rallying around and cooking for and sharing music with a far-away friend with a dire diagnosis and pondered how that outpouring of kindness must make her feel extra compelled to stay.

Months prior, my husband and children and I took a fishing vacation on the French River in Ontario, where guides zipped us around from island to island. We do catch and release fishing, which usually meets my criteria for being a humane sport, as the hooks are small and we try hard not to injure the fish we catch. I was horrified, however, at what was happening to the minnows we were using as bait one afternoon. The silver fish moving through the silver spray, the silver hook, the bright sun-if I didn’t know better it was stunningly beautiful.

As for the last stanza, sometimes statistics feed my morbid streak. I was reading about how some cultures turn women whose children die right after birth into outcasts, or consider them evil or unlucky. What a traumatizing experience for a grieving person!  The figure about the number of babies who die in their first day of life came from a South African news story. When I read it, I placed the relevant facts in my file of things to put into a poem someday. It resonated with the two stanzas I’d already written.

Looking at my notes, I see one other idea raised its hand to be put into the poem, but the piece wanted to stay small. The name of the lowest note in a carillon, the bourdon, had to wait a few months for another invitation to another poem–one about the far away friend.

The mother, the fish, the babies, these three nodes of sadness seemed to hang together and complete each other and flesh out a sense of wonder among the loss. I’m grateful to North American Review for publishing it.


Tina KelleyTina Kelley’s fourth poetry collection, Rise Wildly, is forthcoming in 2020 from CavanKerry Press, which also published Abloom and Awry (2017). Ardor won the Jacar Press 2017 chapbook competition. Her other books are Precise (Word Press), and The Gospel of Galore, winner of a 2003 Washington State Book Award. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope, and reported for The New York Times, sharing in a staff Pulitzer. Her writing has appeared in Poetry East, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2009. She has poems appearing soon in A Compendium of Kisses, Crab Creek Review, Moria, Mom Egg Review, and the Journal of New Jersey Poets. She lives with her husband and two children in Maplewood, NJ. Tina Kelley contributed to North American Review, Volume 304.2

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.