The imagery in the middle and at the end of the poem actually came to me after a visit to my father and stepmother's house in rural Connecticut, and as I wrote the poem hurriedly in bits and pieces on my cell phone in the middle of New York City, it was the distinctiveness of that distant world that I wanted to communicate.
But I recognized later that on a more global level, the concepts I was invoking at the start of the poem were inherently tied to the experience of people like my mother – those who overcome poverty, abuse, and other challenges to enter a seemingly perfect and charmed world, only to feel somehow discomfited by or dissatisfied with those surroundings (“spooked,” as it were), as though the terrors of the past are unshakable on some level. About six months before, my mother had died suddenly after a long battle with chronic Lyme disease, and I had spent a lot of time thinking about the experiences she’d faced as a child and a young adult – how she had worked to overcome them and how, simultaneously, they continued to haunt her both emotionally and physically.
At the same time, "Hampton Pastoral" also gestures toward something that I think is perhaps more universal in the experience of rural and suburban American spaces, where a veneer of aesthetic beauty serves to cover up the emotional, sometimes ineffable discontent that we feel at our surroundings and the roles that we play in those environments.
During that visit, my father had remarked to me how much he regretted that the house and yard bordered a major road, so that cars would fly by at fifty miles an hour and the whizzing would keep him up at night. His passing comment struck me as symptomatic of the discontent that many of us feel about the imperfection of our connection to the natural world even in such beautiful places, and of our unease at the small, unceasing, sometimes irritating and sometimes empty-feeling string of routines that makes up country life. Refill the bird-bath; watch the birds; water the grass. Listen to the cars; long for a greater wilderness.
So in a sense, the poem moves from describing the experience of my mother to evoking the quieter but equally insistent frustrations of us all: of the world that my mother entered when she became an adult and the world that I was raised in. The shift in the poem from the second person to the first person plural marks the moment when that transition is complete.
Suzanne Marie Hopcroft’s poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in Harpur Palate, The Carolina Quarterly, Nashville Review, Barrelhouse, The Collagist, and Drunken Boat. This fall, she is starting her MFA in poetry at The University of California, Irvine. Her poem “Hampton Pastoral” can be found in Hayden’s Ferry Review 52.