Two Cents: On Happy Endings

Brent Smith

“Two Cents” is a new series in which a student selects five written works, in addition to five works of visual art, to convey his or her beliefs on a literary, artistic, or cultural element. If you are interested in contributing your “two cents,” email [email protected]


First installment: “Two Cents: On Happy Endings” by Brent Smith



“A Sad Child” by Margaret Atwood


You’re sad because you’re sad.

It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.

Go see a shrink or take a pill,

or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll

you need to sleep.


Well, all children are sad

but some get over it.

Count your blessings. Better than that,

buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.

Take up dancing to forget.


Forget what?

Your sadness, your shadow,

whatever it was that was done to you

the day of the lawn party

when you came inside flushed with the sun,

your mouth sulky with sugar,

in your new dress with the ribbon

and the ice-cream smear,

and said to yourself in the bathroom,

I am not the favorite child.


My darling, when it comes

right down to it

and the light fails and the fog rolls in

and you’re trapped in your overturned body

under a blanket or burning car,


and the red flame is seeping out of you

and igniting the tarmac beside your head

or else the floor, or else the pillow,

none of us is;

or else we all are.


Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. Tempera on panel, 32 1/4 x 47 3/4″ (81.9 x 121.3 cm). MoMA.













“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” – Joan Didion, The White Album



Jenny Saville. Reverse, 2002-2003. Oil on canvas. 84 x 96 inches (213.4 x 243.8 cm)















“Consolation” by Wisława Szymborska



They say he read novels to relax,

But only certain kinds:

nothing that ended unhappily.

If anything like that turned up,

enraged, he flung the book into the fire.


True or not,

I’m ready to believe it.


Scanning in his mind so many times and places,

he’d had enough of dying species,

the triumphs of the strong over the weak,

the endless struggles to survive,

all doomed sooner or later.

He’d earned the right to happy endings,

at least in fiction

with its diminutions.


Hence the indispensable

silver lining,

the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,

the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,

fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,

stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,

good names restored, greed daunted,

old maids married off to worthy parsons,

troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,

forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,

seducers scurrying to the altar,

orphans sheltered, widows comforted,

pride humbled, wounds healed over,

prodigal sons summoned home,

cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,

hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,

general merriment and celebration,

and the dog Fido,

gone astray in the first chapter,

turns up barking gladly

in the last.



Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), Morning Sun, 1952. Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 in. x 40 1/8 in. Museum Purchase, Howald Fund.













“My Gift to You” by Roberto Bolaño


My gift to you will be an abyss, she said,

but it will be so subtle you’ll perceive it

only after many years have passed

and you are far from Mexico and me.

You’ll find it when you need it most,

and that won’t be

the happy ending,

but it will be an instant of emptiness and joy.

And maybe then you’ll remember me,

if only just a little.



An Angel At My Table by Miriam Escofet © Miriam Escofet. (2018). Portrait of the artist’s mother. (Oil on linen over panel, 100 x 70 cm).

















“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.” – Ian McEwan, Atonement (Pages 350-351).


Mark Rothko. No. 61 (Rust and Blue). 1953. Oil on canvas. 115.25 in × 92.00 in. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles