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Epistle from the Hospital for Strong Opinions

Story by Caitlin Cowan (Read author interview) December 18, 2017

Art by SmokeLong Quarterly

Hello, my dear Jenny, from the old mansion on a cliff we call home. It’s always softly raining here, to match our hushed insides. I opened my mouth too wide, wound up here. We may write uncensored because it is so silent. Everything is just good enough and no more. We slurp cold soup on weeknights; if we complain, a tick mark stands next to our names. Too many ticks and it’s all bed rest. Hush my dear, hush, they say.

Remember how good it felt to teach The Yellow Wallpaper back in Abilene? We would laugh at the rest cure, so sure of our endless voices. One student said the woman was in a kind of hospital, a hospital for strong opinions.

I didn’t know this place was real. Mama would be pleased: a sign hung in every hallway taunts her favorite question: DO YOU WANT TO BE RIGHT, OR DO YOU WANT TO BE TOGETHER?

Quiet hours are strictly enforced, 23 hours per day. At 3pm they trundle us to the courtyard where we sit on paint-flaked stools. We shout our truths in chorus: a cacophony so terrible the nurses plug their ears.

During group last night I told the story of a student I’d once cherished: little Grace, age 7. She told the boys exactly what. You talk too much or you smell like a dog fart, she’d say. I wanted to lift her sparrow’s voice into the air, but I remembered my advice back then, delivered as fact over the soulless Formica desks: Just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to say it. For weeks after, when one of the boys displeased her, Grace would fluff her feathers and say, Miss Caitlin, I’m thinking something, but I won’t say it. Every time I applauded her. Every time I told her she was good.

They’re turning the lights off. I can see the bright thumbprint of her face in the dark.

Yesterday I tried to pick one voice from the daily courtyard caterwaul. One woman let her jaw drop to scream her shred of truth: MY HUSBAND TOLD ME HE WOULD VALIDATE ME MORE IF I NEEDED HIS VALIDATION LESS.

After, she raised her shaking fingers to her mouth, smiled, then pressed them to her lips—a little speak-no-evil stopping her own breath.

Jenny: I’m thinking something, but I won’t say it.

About the Author

Born and raised in the Midwest, Caitlin Cowan lives and works in the warm embrace of Denton, TX. Her work has appeared in Public Pool, Pleiades, Entropy, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Boxcar Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Best New Poets anthology series and a semifinalist for the Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Book Prize, she has won the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, the Ron McFarland Prize for Poetry, and has been a participant at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She holds degrees from The University of Michigan, The New School, and The University of North Texas, where she currently teaches in the Department of English. She has served as an Associate Poetry Editor for Pleiades, and has written for the Dallas Observer, American Microreviews and Interviews​, and other outlets.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Eight

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