The Almshouse | Merril D. Smith

Contains reference to child death

always men
decide her fate—

once, her father, husband,
would ponder and ruminate

now full-bellied overseers
on charity deliberate

they calculate,
each charge enumerate–

her feckless spouse has left her,
her baby dead—unfortunate–

yes, now she
(in her worthless state)

is worthy—to appreciate
this place—an almshouse inmate,

though once she had dreams
she cannot communicate

the foolish fancies
she cannot celebrate

nor anticipate–
all is too late.


Writer’s Commentary

While working on my dissertation that became my first book, Breaking the Bonds, I read through volumes and volumes of “Daily Occurrences” entries for the Philadelphia almshouse looking for entries about women who had been deserted and/or abused by their husbands. “The Almshouse” is inspired by these entries, in particular one from 1793, in which the Guardians of the Poor recorded that the woman’s husband had left her, and her one-month-old baby had died. I’m looking back on work I’ve done in the past, looking with fresh eyes and trying to give voice to the voiceless women who cry out to me.


Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, Mojave Heart Review, Wellington Street Review, Blackbough Poetry, and Nightingale and Sparrow.  Her blog is at merrildsmith.com.

In Memoriam: Their Names | Merril D. Smith

My sisters dead now
I write their names on the church wall–
so many dead,
why, Lord, am I still here?

Cateryn, fair of face,
Amee, sweet and loving,
Jane who sang like a lark
and made me laugh—

no more

will I hear the sound
of their voices,
though my mind teases—
wasn’t that Jane’s titter I heard
at the priest’s stuttering cautions

of heaven and hell–
what does he know of it?

This my hell, my sisters gone,
the three I most adored
in this world–
where they no longer dwell.

So here, my small tribute
that in some future time
one may see their names
and wonder about this trinity

their names left here
in artless manner
but engraved indelibly
on my heart–

Cateryn, Amee, Jane
Anno 1515


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This poem was inspired by the plague graffiti found on the church walls in a Cambridgeshire church.

 


Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, and Mojave Heart Review.

Her blog is at merrildsmith.com and she can be found on Twitter @merril_mds and Instagram @mdsmithnj

The Pogrom | Merril D. Smith

She hid in a haystack—
or—

she climbed into a barrel—
or–

she crawled
into a narrow space

in the now long-vanished barn,
where she became invisible.

Time has fogged the details
in haze, of blaze and cries–

hushed the terror—the whys–
the child, my grandmother,

must have felt
as she heard the boots,

the screams,
the fire’s thunder-roar,

soaring reverberations
almost forgotten

trauma buried deep,
but there, waiting to be sparked,

awakened from smoldering ashes
to flame into a mass in her brain–

and do I carry
within me the burnt ruins

of that long-ago pogrom–
an incipient conflagration–

who knows

but the wisdom of generations
yet flows through my blood.


Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, and Mojave Heart Review.

Her blog is at merrildsmith.com and she can be found on Twitter @merril_mds and Instagram @mdsmithnj