Whose fault is it
I struggle
to rip out
the metal cage
of childhood fear
that grew around
my hopeful heart

Its metal mail
nearly absorbed
cripples the pump
capacity to my brain
and crumbled
rusty habits of feeling
battle to remain

I falter
rushing ahead
when talking
corrosion disconnects
gray matter
from my ever
too quick tongue

Skin transformed
to armor
crushes my backbone
with perambulation
clearly unpredictable
I list a little
when walking

The doctors say
I need more iron
But that is suicide
My heart still loves
inside its prison
“Its inside is bigger
than its outside”


Edited Carrie, Grandma & Me

(Top photo of eastern box turtle by Casey Greider; bottom photo of my sister and me with my grandmother in front of the county children’s home)



28 thoughts on “Carapace

  1. This is brilliant, Mary Jo. The combination of words is powerful: “fear/hope” “cripples/capacity” “rushing/quick” “armour/unpredictable” “inside/outside.” I especially appreciated “ever too quick tongue” something that has always been my “go-to” place. Many thanks for another poem for me to recite!!!

    • Thank you, Rebecca, always for your observations! These connections between our brain and tongue and heart can become rusty with age, disease, or even simple carelessness. Perhaps being a chatterbox can put one at higher risk? On the other hand when writing poetry, subconscious and unintended slips can make for interesting poems, not only for the reader but for the poet. There’s always a balance between inspired spontaneity and intentional shaping. Too much of the former can seem like gibberish or flippant word play; too much of the latter can crush the spirit of the poem.

    • Thank you, Dave!! In my recent and far too belated reading of the The Chronicles of Narnia I came across this quote. Somehow it just seemed perfect for conveying the theme of this poem. Originally I planned to end it with the line about my doctors, for an ironic ending. The C.S. Lewis line is more life affirming 🙂

  2. The poem and the captioned family photograph work together to such powerful effect. When paired with the photograph, the poem brings to mind a palimpsest, with some of the original story still showing through.

    • Thank you, Sylvia, for your comments. Children don’t understand their difficult circumstances, but they crave connection with relatives. My sister and I were blessed to have always been together in our childhood. 🙂

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