Ten years ago today (as I write these words) my daughter entered the world. She was my first child, and she remains my only one. From the very beginning my mode for wrestling with my hopes, fears, and struggles with fatherhood were best expressed in poetry.

Parenthood is terrifying. So many things could go wrong—I’m terrified of accidently backing over my daughter with my car, for example—and yet along with that stark terror is an unimaginable beauty. I know of no better way to deal with such paradox than poetry.

When my daughter was two, her mother and I divorced. It was amicable at first, but as often happens between even well-meaning people, the veneer of civility quickly shattered. It doesn’t matter at this point why, or who was at fault; the only thing that really matters is that things got unbearable. Years of court battles, years of our daughter being trapped in the middle. For me, years of another marriage—also unsuccessful, though that is the subject of a different essay—and in it all a difficult decision to relocate from Ohio to Virginia. My daughter remains in Ohio. As I write this on her birthday, she is five and half hours away. I’ll see her next weekend and we’ll celebrate. But still, I worry.

I worry that the distance will be too much. I worry that she’ll never understand. I worry that I won’t be able to explain, that it’ll be too late by the time she’s able to have a conversation about why I moved. I worry that the things I’m missing are irreplaceable. In these moments I turn to poetry.

I also have joy. I see her growing up and I know she’s a far better person than I was or will be. I see myself in her—the good parts of me—whether the dimple on her right cheek or her passion for geography and animals and her adorable nerdiness that I fought so long against in my own life. In these moments I turn to poetry.

I write a lot about my daughter, about the struggles of being a divorced father, a long-distance father trying to do the best thing by his daughter, the things I fear and the things I have hope for. I worry sometimes what she’ll think when she reads it. So I write the only way I can for her. With honesty. With hope. With joy. With fear. In these moments I turn to poetry.

My Daughter as a Hollow Mountain

I immediately question

the use of “hollow”—it implies

emptiness. That’s not correct.

She is full. Bustling

with cars on tracks

and buttressed with

reinforced concrete.

She if full of conductors

and engineers and foremen

and workers and a thousand

secrets unknown

to the masses that pass

by and see only hillside

and foliage and a mountain

being what a mountain

is supposed to be. She’s almost

nine and learning quickly

how to be something

no one sees. I don’t

see this either, but

I guess well. I know

that I set some

of the demolition charges,

created some of the rubble

that hopefully one day

will be cleared. But I am

no inspector, my clearance

level is low. Most days

I drive by and wonder

what goes on in there

and hope that one day

I’ll be given a tour.

She looks at me with trust

that we’ll always be

the way she thinks we are.

She’ll learn soon

that I don’t actually know

all her secrets. I pray

that one day we’ll set

a charge together

and bring the whole

damn mountain down.

Then we’ll dance

in the remnant of tunnel

and sing in the rain

of fresh gravel

and her hands will be

open and her eyes

will be closed

and we will be

exactly the way

I hope we’ll be.

Adam Hughes is the author of four full-length poetry collections, most recently Allow the Stars to Catch Me When I Rise (Salmon Poetry, 2017) and Deep Cries Out to Deep (Aldrich Press, 2017). Born and raised in Central Ohio, he now resides in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where he is pursuing an MFA at Randolph College. Should you google him, he is not the Adam Hughes who draws near-pornographic depictions of female superheroes. This particular Adam Hughes cannot draw.