Commonplace
-
www.common-place.org · vol. 1 · no. 3 · April 2001
-

Death

 

 

 

Three Poems Introduction | I | II | III
Nicole Cooley

Witness, Recantation
For Elizabeth Reis

I enjoy, though in abundance of afflictions, being close confined here in a loathsome dungeon.
-- Margaret Jacobs, letter to her father from Salem prison, August 21, 1692

Honored Father, when I remember you

your eyes turn the color of a bruise.
As soon as you speak to me you disappear,
and I have to imagine
the ocean that might lie between us,

then something breaks inside my body
and everyone I've hurt returns:
Grandfather, Mother, You,
skin translucent like the oiled paper
we stretched in place of glass
between the window lead.

I see through your body. You never
have to say it: Lying is a sin.
What's worse to you, false testimony
or a wrong confession? Down here is all
darkness, the only sound the slur
of rain in the dirt, water rats scratching
inside the walls. Grandfather is dead.

Mother locked in Boston Jail. You
escaped. Lying is a sin. Just as any telling
of this story is a lie,

just as in the future,
years from now when you and I are dead,
another woman will write this letter down
in a room with sky-colored walls
and electric candles under a water-
color of the sea, waves capped in white
like dress lace, a girl on the dock waving

goodbye to no one under the caption:
Salem, Massachusetts, New England's Maritime Paradise.

 

Poems reprinted by permission of author from The Afflicted Girls.

prev this issue home

Discuss this article in the Republic of Letters

-

Subscribe

-
Copyright © 2001 Common-place The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, Inc., all rights reserved