Fire of the Five Hearts: A Memoir of Treating Incest
by Holly A. Smith '78

One striking aspect of the sexual-abuse scandal wracking the Catholic Church is the depth and longevity of the anguish experienced by the innocent. The degradation of children by trusted elders is a betrayal so shattering that they are often reduced, like archaeologists at an ancient site, to picking through the rubble of selfhood to reconstruct an identity.

Holly A. Smith '78 has witnessed this process for two decades as a social worker specializing in incest. Her book, Fire of the Five Hearts: A Memoir of Treating Incest, is an achingly personal account of a career spent addressing "the gravest and most destructive atrocity to be thrust on a child."

Smith etches, with unnerving precision, those perverse acts that rob children of their voices, adolescents of their identity, and adults of normal patterns of love and intimacy. "I am sure that I will die," she writes of those times when she enters a home devoid of hope, stinking of ignorance, and desperate for the attention of a functioning adult.

Woven into her narrative is a personal search for salvation-from the nightmares that haunt her and the voyeuristic curiosity that keeps her coming back day after day. She offers few answers to her peers who have lost their passion, their compassion. Feel the grass under your feet, she counsels. Slip into deep water.
Like Smith, the reader is at once repulsed and intrigued by her caseload. Fire of the Five Hearts leaves us understanding there is sadness beyond imagining and strength in the hand that reaches out.

-Mieke H. Bomann '77 is contributing writer for the Bulletin.


Reprinted from Imitation of Life: "Supermercado" by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press 2003 by Allison Joseph '88


The tv ads thunder "tops en el Bronx!"
so my father and I make a pact,
set out in pursuit of fruit
to a warehouse turned supermarket
with sawdust on the floors and crates
cracked open in the aisles,
more abundance here than in scanty
neighborhood stores, so much
to pick through, mull over:
peaches so ripe in their blushing
fuzzy skins we are tempted
to munch them right there,
juice seeping down our chins
like water seeping into earth.
Here we are brown people unashamed
to love watermelon, stereotypes giving way
when we see that red-pink flesh
that we know is juicier than any kiss,
welcoming even the unobtrusive seeds
that will slip subtly from our mouths.
My father hands me three plastic bags,
pushes me toward mounds
of lemons, limes, tangerines,
chiding me to find the best ones,
unblemished, almost ready,
globes of yellow and orange,
each one a world I admire,
feeling its nubby skin just moments
before I tuck it in the right bag.
Why have mere grapes when
mangoes beckon, when we can taste
the extravagance beneath
their green-going-yellow-going-red skins,
when we can imagine mango pulp-
sweet and tart and light on our tongues.
Apples are too ordinary for us
when here we can buy huge coconuts
we'll later crack open, sip cool
sugary water from, when we can indulge
in pineapple, kiwi, pomegranate,
fruit congregating in our basket,
then in the car, bounty
in our rusty Chevy, in all
the not-so-sleek cars of our city
carrying away this fruit,
plump fresh enfolding pits,
tang singing beneath rinds.

Of Interest

Fiction and Poetry

Jim Kraft '76, The Vampire Hound, Troll Communications [for ages nine to twelve]

David Lane '67, The Tears of Christendom: Collected Poems, The Neumann Press


William Blank '69, Soon You Will Understand . . . the Meaning of Life, Writers Club Press

Richard H. Collin '54, Travels with Rima: A Memoir, Louisiana State University Press

John T. Lysaker '88, You Must Change Your Life: Poetry, Philosophy, and the Birth of Sense, Pennsylvania State University Press

Jim Reisler '80, Before They Were the Bombers: The New York Yankees' Early Years, 1903-1915, McFarland and Company

Back to Top