Crawl Space 

Elmwood Park, Columbia, SC

At the house on Gadsden Street,

the smell of damp earth

wafted from cracks between scarred

heart-pine boards—

nothing but five feet of dank air

between us and the dirt,

the yard sloping down to a dead-end

road guarded by a mean dog on a chain,

abandoned fields overgrown with kudzu,

railroad tracks rattling the bones

in the old cemetery filled with the city’s finest

buried atop the graves of the formerly enslaved

along with inmates, soldiers, asylum patients,

their plots forgotten, bulldozed

to make way for the highway backfilled

with a palimpsest of human remains.

We could see the headstones out back

when the Spanish moss went gray

and the live oaks shed

their red and yellow leaves

and I often wondered if the dead

resting on the other side of the ridge

seeped up from the disturbed land

to pass through our house—

the dark outline that rushed past my bed,

the lady in a long white dress

who woke my toddler one night—

though later I came to believe

the source of the haunting 

was me.

When we remodeled the kitchen there was a pit

where the dinner table used to be:

musty wooden ribs and rotting beams,

joists about to give.

We covered the maw with a tarp

but I couldn’t sleep with a hole

in the heart of my home.

I kept remembering that winter

when I didn’t think I could go on

with you, like this—how everything

buckled and collapsed.

How we almost quit.


For my great-grandmother

She learned early

there was no use asking why

her parents were so much older than the others, why

she couldn’t see herself

mirrored in their features

no matter how she tried.

She knew some questions are best abandoned,

a farmer’s bride with poor teeth

and tuberculosis in her spine,

the same exquisite face

as my grandmother—

sculpted cheekbones set up high,

cupid’s bow lips, and sloe eyes—

unpinning laundry from the line,

cooking supper from the Depression garden,

plucking tomatoes from the vine

wiping her brow, sweating through

her hand-sewn dress,

the day so hot she feared

the fields would burst into flame

when the burnt umber sun sank into the horizon

undulating with cornstalks

grown six-feet high by July.

There’s a bone in my knee—

her response to all the unanswerable questions.

How did the baby get in your belly?

Why is the sky blue?

Where do we go when we die?

There’s a bone in my knee—

a kind of subterfuge

but also a kindness:

solid, flesh-covered, something

a little girl could lean up against

sitting on the front stoop,

small hand cupping

this secret wisdom of her mother’s body,

the two of them

together in silence

on the threshold of night.


Therese Gleason is author of two chapbooks: Libation (co-winner, 2006 South Carolina Poetry Initiative Competition) and Matrilineal (Honorable Mention, 2022 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize, New England Poetry Club). Her poems appear in 32 Poems, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, New Ohio Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, and elsewhere. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Therese lives in Worcester, MA with her family. A dyslexia therapist and reading interventionist, she teaches multisensory structured literacy at an elementary school, and is a poetry editor for The Worcester Review. Find her at