Lucia Galloway


These two poems are from my “aggrieved wives” series of poems written in the voices of women married to illustrious men. Several years ago I came across a line from Mark Strand that resonated with me and seemed the perfect epigraph for such a series, “But does a woman ever find herself in her husband’s name?” Jane Carlyle and Lidian Emerson were women who struggled internally carrying the burden of their husbands’ names. I wanted to give them voices and in that way express something of their essential selves. Reading Jane Carlyle’s story in Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives (1983) and a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Robert D. Richardson, Jr. (Emerson: The Mind on Fire, 1995) inspired me, as did many of the women married to famous scientists whom I met while I myself was a Caltech wife.




Jane Carlyle Laments


                    . . . she felt like an animate suitcase with his name on it.

                                             --Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives


My suitcase emptied hours ago, I want an occupation.
In the wardrobe, my few dresses, except the one
laid out to wear to dinner. A whiff of lavender . . .
I was fond once of this ivory cameo,
memento of another life when I was just a girl—
witty, companionable, and counting the months
between Mr. Carlyle’s letters.

Clever I believe I was. Father used to urge me,
“Write, Lass.” And I delighted in it. I took him my novel
and the next year brought my five-act tragedy to his discerning eye.
At home in Haddington nothing pleased him more.
“All Scotland shall know of Jane Baillie Welsh!”

Mother reveled in other prospects, counting the suitors
for their heiress. Even after Poppa died, I flourished
as fire thrives on air. Some said I was flirtatious.
And yes, I ignited sparks and shook some embers
while I awaited letters from that Mr. Carlyle.

Not I, but Thomas now—Mr. Carlyle, the cynosure
of gazes. He displays his ebony intellect, polished
to a gloss for Lady Ashburton’s coterie. Let him!
Let these stagnant days, these sterile nights be my reward
for shushing a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do—my diplomacy
with our neighbor who kept backyard hens.
And my husband raging in the dawn, stomping.
I shuddered in my bed.

I envy a rooster as much as I despise forbearing hens,
but Thomas must have his sleep. I based my argument
on Mr. Carlyle’s weighty contribution to the world
and got that woman to shut the rooster up inside the house
while Thomas and I enjoyed a brief reprieve, buttering our toast,
inhaling the fragrance of our morning tea. Yet still it seemed
that Thomas could not work. Trains shook the house,
their whistles screaming. Vendors squawked and yodeled.
The soundproof room we built upstairs—a sham.

Now there’s the bell: we’re summoned
to Harriet Ashburton’s drawing room for sherry.
What do I want with cordials? Jane is not Jane
without her words. Could I but puff my chest
and crow a little! Let Thomas read and scribble
in the radiance of Lady Ashburton’s smile.
I shall pen my thoughts in this dim light.


Letters to Ralph Waldo Emerson from His Second Wife


                         Over his active career of four decades, Emerson 
                         gave some 1,500 public lectures.

                                      --Robert D. Richardon, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire


23 February, 18—

I snatch an hour to write, dear Husband,
regretting that so poor and hasty and epistle
must reach your eyes. I mean to amend my ways.
Your son Eddy crows beneath the table,
making sentries of clothespins,
a tower of measuring cups.
From the comfort of my lap,
our Edith helps me write.

Henry entertained us yesterday
with bird calls rendered on his flute,
transforming our parlor into a forest glen.
He promises a letter in this packet.

Last night’s snow weighs down
the fir tree branches, glorious with their burden!
I dreamt then of meeting Ellen when you and I
had gone to heaven. I could do naught but go away,
leaving you with her.
Waldo, I covet the deep bell
of your voice from the study, yet I cannot
begrudge the words you tender others
from the podium.

I sign myself Lidian,
your affectionate Wife
and mother of your children.


2 June, 18—

To catch time on the wing
I put my pen to paper. Even so,
your weeks at home fly by more swiftly
than each hour that you are absent.

Our dear Elizabeth arrived this morning,
pleasing Mother with new lettuce
and a jar of berry conserve.
Our Edith often halts her play to fetch
her grandma’s ball of wool or thimble.
This afternoon she stopped to wash her face
before presenting herself at dinner!

Waldo, dearest Friend, if only you could
see the children daily, I think you would approve
their God-given wisdom.
Ellen chided me this morning
when I complained that I should die
if she would not stop fretting:
“No Mother, you will not . . .”
I blush reporting this.

Your favorite plum tree’s set with fruit,
not numerous but promising . . .

I tender my devotion as
your Wife,
(your second wife,
the mother of your children)


Notes: References above are to Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a good friend of the Emersons; Ellen Tucker, Emerson’s wife from 1829 until her death in 1831; and Elizabeth Hoar, the fiancee of Emerson’s brother Charles, who died of tuberculosis in 1836, four months before the scheduled wedding. Source: Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire. University of California Press, 1995.


Lucia%20Galloway.jpgLucia Galloway is author of a chapbook collection of poems, Playing Outside (Finishing Line Press, 2005). Her poems are also published or forthcoming in such venues as Columbia Poetry Review, Cumberland Poetry Review, Flyway, Gertrude, Her Mark 2007 and 2009, The Lyric, The MacGuffin, Poetry Midwest, Poemeleon, Prism Review, Spillway, and Thema, among others. Awards include the Robert Haiduke Prize from Bread Loaf School of English; first- and second-place prizes in the Dancing Poetry Contest, Artists Embassy International; Honorable Mention in the MacGuffin National Poet Hunt. In 2006 her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A resident of Claremont, California, Lucia co-curates the Friends of the Claremont Library Poetry Readings. She holds the MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She teaches writing to young people for Johns Hopkins CTYOnline.