What She Carried

by Alida Woods

My mother hoisted the wicker picnic basket 
from the station wagon onto her hip.

She must have told us not to ask questions
and to be quiet before she pushed the steel bar

on the door of the facility—what she called it
to her friends. To us, it was the hospital.
I walked by her side, my sisters behind us,
holding hands. Our pressed shirt-waist dresses

whispered in the dead air. My father stood waiting,
diminutive in his Harris Tweed, crisp

white shirt, bow tie balanced on his Adam’s apple.
In the garden my mother unpacked sandwiches, 

potato salad, maybe peaches? We were careful
to eat slowly. Any conversation now forgotten.

There were more visits, maybe one or two, 
and later drives to the therapist, in the rain, 

just my father and me, along for the company
and to keep him engaged and not lost in his head.

In between there were months, years
of happily-ever-after. Parties, friends, croquet, 

summer sails. A beloved headmaster, mentor, friend—
his darknesses lit by my mother’s bon vivance,

grace that sheltered his gloom—the perfect meals,
gardens of envy, things carefully buttoned up— 

and all the while—she carried his silence, her secret—
on her stiff upper lip.

My Smallness Holds Space for Wonder

by Alida Woods

The small self is probably one of the defining elements of awe. Dacher Keltner

You think you’re so big was what we said when marshalling our eleven-year-old selves into
the pre-adolescent pecking order. The world was big.
Not one of us felt big enough.

The world
is still big and I am big enough
to be small.

My eye to her eye, the elephant’s glassy brown orb,
a nacreous portal to this 6,000-pound mystery. Her patient stare holds
me in an immensity, gathers up my smallness.

Pungent sage hovers in the still noon. In the Valley of Fire, I stand
“reading” the colossal rock, the sepia stories of hunting and gathering as this minute fades
into millennia. My story is small.

Like wild thunder, the Zambezi tumbles over the edge of the earth, spray catching
the full moonlight. A rainbow reaches over us, across the divide,
we cannot hear each other’s awe.

My husband tells me the warblers have arrived. They are here, he tells me, feeding for
nocturnal flight from as far away as Patagonia, their flight sometimes 40,000 feet
above the trees. We look up at the stars guiding them north,
my smallness next to his.

A retired educator, Alida Woods is grateful to The Great Smokies Writing Program where she has fine-tuned her craft. Her chapbook, Disturbing Borders, was published in 2018, and her poems have appeared in a number of journals including Artemis, The Amsterdam Quarterly, Front Porch, Smoky Blue Literary and Arts, and The Avocet. She shares poetry with neighbors at a kiosk in Montford called Poetry for Passersby.