Poems from Carol Smallwood

The House Wrapped Around

as if I’d never left, my feet automatically

adapting to the spot that dipped, and

without looking I knew the exact distance

between the windows even without the

television or stereo.

The heavy doors did provide a feeling

of solidity until one stuck—and the panic

only calmed by the window above the

kitchen sink where I’d studied clouds.

Despite the happiness being with the kids,

I remembered: “How do you know I’m mad?”

said Alice. “You must be,” said the

Cheshire Cat,” or you wouldn’t have come


Brylcreem, cigarettes, and antiseptic clung to

the bedroom once shared with Cal; only two

mirrors remained arranged so they endlessly

repeated me till I disappeared.

There’d been a mirror the night before I

married that’d given wavy reflections

while packing away girlhood diaries.

Now the stripes in the yellow wallpaper

mocked, “So you thought you’d get away?

Cal said you never would.”

The yellow wallpaper became that in the

story about a wife who peels it to free

the woman she thinks trapped.

Her husband called her, little girl;

So did mine.


The post office has flyers: “Crime Victims Have Rights”

but emotional incest lacks legal definition--

its victims seldom included in important sites.

The post office has flyers: “Crime Victims Have Rights”:

covert incest is a widespread oversight

that abusers know lacks recognition.

The post office has flyers: “Crime Victims Have Rights”

but emotional incest lacks legal definition.

A Need to Know Basis


What circle of Purgatory has the deeply carved inscription, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know”?

As a woman I would’ve smiled at Keats had I traveled with his brothers, Dante and Virgil. Truth is more slippery for women. Women shape it from what they see and feel, from the ooze of living and blood of creation.


A rescue worker said that when a person falls between a passing train and train platform their body gets twisted like a corkscrew ribs down. When they’re removed they die because their guts fall out--before they’re just numb. When it happens workers call people close to them after saying they have one or two minutes to live after being removed from between train and platform.


If I accept the truth it meant those closest to me had done things so awful it altered my brain. Caroline had said, “They’re out to crack you,” but I hadn’t believed her.

It just wasn’t Uncle Walt. How about Cal? And had Doctor and Dirk really been any better? How many had guessed but did nothing? How much had Honor Thy Father contributed? I had “HIT ME” on my forehead after Uncle Walt adopted me.


Could it be like what Tim O’Brien wrote in one of his stories about being in the Vietnam War? “The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over.”


My brother said, “With Uncle Walt and Aunt Hester behind Cal what can you do? Uncle Walt could very well have done things to you as a child but it’s over.”

“Don’t you know what it does? It’s like seeing an elephant in your pew and pretending it isn’t there!”

“You’re like my women parishioners. You refuse to see things.”

“See things?”

“Whatever you think is wrong would look small if you read the lives of the saints.”


When I get close to accepting truth, my mind retreats like a horse nearing a cliff. I remember telling Mary Elizabeth’s husband that when I mowed it was so dry one summer that, “I’d never seen clouds of dust like that.”

When he said, “It’s never been so dry before,” the logic, the mere acceptance of saying things the way they were seemed crude, impolite, not Christian.


But what happened surfaces in dreams and symptoms as surely as earthquakes and volcanoes confirm the molten core of the earth.

About Carol Smallwood

Carol Smallwood’s most recent poetry collections include In Hubble’s Shadow (Shanti Arts 2017); Prisms, Particles, and Refractions (Finishing Line Press, 2017); A Matter of Selection (Poetic Matrix Press, 2018). A multi-Pushcart nominee, she’s founded, supports humane societies.


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