Susan Houlihan

Susan Houlihan writes of her fears eased by the river in her poem, “River Walk.” She walks along the river after hearing news. The river breeze comes and carries her emotions away.


Location: Entrance to Riverside Park (State St. and East Veterans Memorial Dr.)

This is Susan Houlihan reading “River Walk,” a third-prize winner in the 2017 Hear, Here Poetry Contest. The day I learned I had cancer was the beginning of my daily walk through Riverside Park. When I left the clinic, I was unable to think. I don’t remember consciously deciding to go Riverside, but somehow, I got there and started walking on the sidewalk next to the river. Everything I saw was beautiful. The fresh air, the birds flying overhead and floating on the water, the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, the waters of the Mississippi always moving brushing against the rocks on the bank. Being there surrounded by so much beauty didn’t leave room for me to think about all the things usually crowd my mind. By the time I got back to my car, I was relaxed and renewed. I continued my walks every day after my radiation treatments and often felt it was those walks that helped me take one day at a time. Today, I am cancer-free and enjoy walking through Riverside Park almost every day.

After hearing the diagnosis,
I find myself by the river,
Stunned, numb, and scared.

I stand and stare at the water.

I start walking,
eyes on the sidewalk, hands the jacket pockets,
shoulders held tight against ears.

Slowly a deep breath comes, climbs
through tight muscles, surfaces, disappears.
The thick, braided-rope knots
that anchor my shoulders, squeeze my lungs,
cage my heart, and capture my memory,
begin to loosen, fray, unravel.

Then rise on the soft river breeze
and float away into the sky,
like thread-thin filaments of flower.