Hannah Stephenson, “Good Job You Now Know the World’s Secrets”

Good Job You Now Know the World’s Secrets
Hannah Stephenson

Good Job You Now Know the World’s Secrets

If snow were a message
and it is

it would mean

is the source
of all repair


Still staring at Andy Dixon’s “Portrait of a Schoolteacher,” which inspired Stephenson’s poem. The teacher looks like she is composed of several things: children’s colorful scribbling, traditional expectations (note the dress and the hat), and her own humanity (her face is where the most color is concentrated). I get the rough feeling that there’s a hierarchy of things in this painting. The traditional expectations are completely colored over or shaped by what the children imagine. But the teacher’s humanity is the only thing that matters in the end: we’re looking at her face, wondering if she’s fallen apart, stitched together, or even projecting beyond all that.

Onto the poem. I get the feeling that it starts from the notion that the teacher has fallen apart and been reconstructed. But it’s only a start: “snow” gives this poem no color, whereas the portrait is extremely colorful.

The poem, to be sure, begins blunt. You may wonder if snow is a message. Well, it is a message. It means falling “is the source of all repair.”

And yet reading the poem involves a falling motion that is gentler. The second line of each stanza resolves the first and links the next stanza, except for the last. Ok, you say, isn’t that true of every poem? Well, yes, but two things peculiar to this case. First, there is direct import for the theme and drama, as this poem only begins blunt. Moreover, the second line is shorter than the first, as if it was a piece that broke off from the first.

The first stanza wonders if snow is a message and quickly cuts of all debate. But it does resolve that snow “is” something. It softens in the next stanza; “is” turns to “would mean,” and the only thing meant is “falling.” The title of the poem is sarcasm, but it took between 10-15 words to see anger abate a bit, turn into something else.

That abating is a recognition of self. The third stanza gives us a conclusion of sorts. The three words of the first line parallel the three of the second. “The source of all repair” is a grounding. “The” makes way for “all,” and a “source” does not just generate a new being, wholly separate from the one hurt. What are the world’s secrets? Whatever enables it to keep on going, with only temporary materials, and somehow respond and be shaped by what seem to be stronger – maybe even truthful – pains.

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