Safe House by Jude Rittenhouse


“Safe House” by Jude Rittenhouse


A child: eighteen 

months but too old 

in the eyes. The joy that makes you reach 

toward children 

has dissolved. This baby’s famished smile 

creeps beneath my skin

along with the women’s bruises, 

missing teeth, broken limbs. Fragments I 

will carry with my own when I go home 

in one hour. Something no other woman here 

can do. Those in this shelter’s living room,

crowded with cast-off couches and chairs,

have already left what they needed


to leave behind. For a time. For this hour,

I explain how words have power. Black

eye hidden behind loose hair, a woman whispers:

He found my journals 

and laughed, said: Who’d care what you think?

I ask them to write about who they are

and wish to become. The sound 

of pens scratching like people buried alive: 

trapped in shut-tight coffins. 


When I offer a chance to share, two women 

have called themselves fat 

though they are not. The child’s mother reads:  

I am a good mother, but I could not keep my little

angel safe. I want to pass laws 

that protect children. When I say words 

can call dreams into being, the final reader thinks 

she has done it all wrong. She reads: 

I want to be the moon 

shining alone, guiding lost souls through night

She can’t yet see 

how, already, her light 

pierces a deeper darkness.



“Safe House” was first published by Yellow Arrow Journal in their “Kindling” issue on 5/9/23



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Jude Rittenhouse Artist Statement:

Jude Rittenhouse received a Writers Grant from the Vermont Studio Center, a Women Making History
Award, a Visionary Award, and was founding co-editor for the feminist literary magazine Moon
Journal (1995–2008; archived at Smith College). Her poems have won awards from Glimmer Train Press
and Poets & Patrons of Chicago and have been finalists for the Pablo Neruda Award and Tiferet Poetry
Prize. Her work has been published in many literary magazines and anthologies, including Nimrod
International Journal; Tiferet: Literature, Art, & The Creative Spirit; Dove Tales: An International
Journal of the Arts; Her Mark 2005 (Woman Made Gallery, 2005); and The Kali Guide: A Directory of
Resources for Women (Zenprint, 2002), among others.

For over twenty years, Ms. Rittenhouse has taught writing workshops and been a speaker at conferences,
retreats, schools, and other learning centers. She works with clients in private practice at Integrated
Healing Services, Westerly, RI.


Author: A Room of Her Own

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