Author’s note: “These poems are an excerpt of my historical verse novel, An Art, A Craft, A Mystery (Livingston Press, 2022), which is available for pre-order (link below). The novel is about two women who immigrated to the colonies as indentured servants in the seventeenth century. Lydea Gilbert and her niece, Katherine Gilbert Harrison are my maternal ancestors. They lived along the Connecticut River, on the edges of a new world. Subject to the unjust treatment of women, they became victims of the witch-hunts in their communities. This selection explores the relationship between Lydea Gilbert and her employer, Henry Stiles.”
A late summer’s evening. I sat on the bench end, greasing
my boots. Lydea joined me, her basket filled with dried garlic.
The western sun sent streaks across our labors. I watched
her hands—rubbing the bulbs free of papery skins, clipping
the root hairs with her knife. Swallows dove in the falling
light. She found a steady pace—hand to bulb, filling a bowl
with brittle moon-paper petals, and a basket with trimmed
heads for fall storage. Above her ever-moving fingers, one
chestnut strand, streaked with silver light, swung from her
cap. I almost caught her eye—but my sight stayed enraptured
with her steady hands, filling containers with light.
Sonnet for Henry
As dawn seeps through the winter sky,
I watch a squirrel traverse dark branches.
I work too hard to note old heartaches’ cries.
I journeyed far pursuing second chances,
yet find my waiting hours lasting years.
From fire-to-fire, meal-to-meal, I plod,
counting rosy sunrise against those morns
with bleary skies. No time for sobbing.
I never spoke the swellings in my breast
or reached outside my heart for honest touch—
just stocked the larders, choking up my chest.
For long I’ve known a woman can’t ask much
but a dry cot and small beer come the dusk.
For years, abiding, till now I see I’m loved.
If This Be Heresy
O Henry, once as cold as craggy peak—
Stony man, you never seemed to seek
life’s honey, but look, you went to seek
fistfuls of autumn flowers from our meadow.
Come down from bloomy places on our meadow—
Find an empty flagon. I’ve poesies for your table.
I cannot match their beauty at this table.
The meal today is but yesterday’s bread,
Eggs from the ashes, turnip mashed bread.
They don’t complain and eat hearty.
In fading light on this rich night, heartily
we make one family and celebration carries.
None cares if this be heresy; our laughter carries.
O Henry, nothing cold as craggy peak.
3rd October 1651. Henry Stiles of Windsor is killed
when the gun of Thomas Allyn, also of Windsor,
accidentally discharges during a militia exercise.
Four men carry his body, the stretcher rocking.
His rock-gray arm is lifeless.
His life leapt with that blood-red blast,
bursting from his heart. Ripped to shreds.
Shredded sanguine linen and wool.
Wooly hairs saturate his chest.
Chased from my life by a musket ball.
Bald truths never before spoken,
spoken face-to-face for this fortnight.
O nights of sworn affection and promises.
All promise broken. Doomed, we spoke with honest hearts.
His heart, swollen with love’s professions,
will profess in loving tones no more.
Must I know more, and still prepare his body?
This body I held for just a palm-full of nights.
Nights of full moon and filled arms—
arms embracing me, unleashed.
Now, I am leashed to pain.
With painful memory and recollection,
I collect warm water and rags.
His body, like a stiff rag lies upon the table.
Time to table your dreams.
Never dreamed l would remove his bloody clothing,
now, his bloody clothing I withdraw with care,
caring nothing for my flooding tears.
Tears mingle in the wash water,
on watery rags, rung damp. Start here.
Here, his eyes closed. Black lashes. A crag of nose.
His nose against my cheek. All life gone.
Gone, the brass buttons I sewed on.
I cannot sew back his exploded breast.
In my breast, I feel his whisper.
Lydea, whispered. His last breath.
His breath speaking one last word, my name.
Naming love was his final act.
Act less broken, I tell myself.
Selvage fabric twined with skin.
Skin exposed, sliding his breeches away.
Is there no other way? No, I must witness all,
bless every part. How might I...
Might I come back to his hands?
They were handy with a hemp knot,
they were not mine, but known by me.
Mean and vengeful fate.
Fated we were to speak too late.
Laura Secord earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College. Her verse novel, An Art, A Craft, A Mystery is available for pre-order from Livingston Press. A Pushcart nominee, her poems have appeared in Poetry, Cahoodleloodling, Finishing Line Press, Burning House Press, Voices of Resistance, Snapdragon, Indolent Books, Passager, PoemMemoirStory, The Southern Women’s Review, The Birmingham Weekly and Arts and Understanding. She serves on the board of The Magic City Poetry Festival and has a lifetime commitment to women and lost or unvoiced stories.
“What Book Blurbs Teach the Author”: https://laurasecordmojomamma.wordpress.com/2021/07/14/what-book-blurbs-teach-the-author/
Video selections from An Art, A Craft, A Mystery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7nq2sBGcz0