Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Help! Below is a poem I've been working on since I got back from ACA. If anyone would read it before I ruin it, I'd love you for it. Also I will reciprocate. Joanna read my sestina and was nice enough to suggest I post it, so I will. Both of these are for the book loosely based on the ancestry research I've been doing for what seems forever now. My paternal grandfather's family were French Canadians.
I Hear Marie Agathe Speak from Her Hospital Bed at the Hotel Dieu, Québec; Her Husband’s Confession to Père Jean-Baptiste Interrupts
“Louis came to us from God ten months after I married Robillard. Our bright boy was seven when the purple fever picked him out. He went back to God in 1777.
Marie Marguerite lived two years. Maurice lived three. My life has taught me to dread the hot months when disease creeps from house to house while we sleep. None of us know what to do about this.
Genevieve came next and she is mother to three strong children. Tonight she lies in the bed next to me, red with the same pox. The priest has given us Last Rites and left our ward. My daughter sobs.
We named the next baby Marie Genevieve, to borrow from her sister’s healthy nature and to honor the Holy Mother, but she was born without breath.
Marguerite Lambert, same thing, no breath.”
I am a sinful man who prays that my wife be spared from her duty to give birth. I would not touch her again but she begs for another child and I cannot resist her. We choose the names of saints as soon as she feels quick with life, hoping these holy ones will look out for the little one in her belly. Genevieve, ma rose, is two. Joseph, our newborn, cries with lusty vigor, five children lie in the cimetière. On our wedding day my young bride danced to the fiddler longer than anyone else, sang the old songs from France for our guests, came to our bed with trust. Seven times in seven years she has been with child! I pray we not be blessed in this way again. You have not seen your wife faint at a gravesite, have not lost your firstborn son, (who had your name, your black hair, your wife’s eyes, blue as the September sky) turn hot and purple, then cold, rigid, lost to us. What do you know about family, Priest? You, who preaches that God wills every French family have so many Catholic babies. More than I hate the Protestant King, I hate the screams of Marie Agathe every time she struggles to give birth. Eh bien. Give me my pennance. I will try to pray with a humble heart that rage leaves me before this howling anger in my soul frightens my sweet wife again.
“Joseph lives on as do Charles, Francois, and Marie Felice. Three fine sons to help on the farm! Our daughter is an Urseline, lives in the convent, nurses the sick here, at the Hotel Dieu. I have seen her!
Louis, yes, another Louis, became a soldier and so died at twenty.
Marie Joseph pushed too early! ‘Not yet, not yet!’ I could not hold her back and her heart stopped after one day.
Marie Archange gave us two granchildren, then died in childbirth. Aussi le petite.
God gave me Marie Judith when I was tired and old. She was our laughing baby for one year and one month before the deadly rash stole her from us in 1790. I was not blessed with child again.
When I see God I will ask him where in Heaven to find these nine children. I’ll try to die still holding poor Genevieve’s hand. Sister Angelique does not know if this will help us stay together when we go (Le Ciel doit être si grand!) but I think it is possible that it will.”
1664: Fourteen-Year-Old Marie Grandin Paces the Apple Orchard, Talking to Angels and Trees
Holy Angels, help me. A cruel man now possesses my Papa.
He has taken the King’s silver. In return, I’ll be sent to New France,
cross the vast sea, marry an émigré, bear the children of a stranger!
I belong in Normandy on our farm. I don’t want to drown in the ocean!
I’ll say, “Mama and Aunt Nicolette always need my help and I will obey
quickly. You’ll see it my Papa, only do not put me on that terrifying ship.
The priest thinks waves might rise as high as the church spire and crush the ship!
Make the avocat tear up the paper that has your X. Give back his coin, Papa!
If you do I will marry Alphonse who smells like his goats, and never disobey
his mother who some think is a witch. I will have his babies here, for France,
be a farmer’s wife here, for France. Who will love me, there, across the ocean?
The King can find 800 other girls for this place of wolves, bears, rude strangers.
The priest said sailors fight, speak bad French or the garble of strangers.
Tender girls become greasy, skinny crones from months of no sleep on a ship,
only biscuits hard as our pony’s hoofs to eat, salt water to wash, bucking ocean
beneath boots. All this only to reach wild men with tangled beards, Papa!
Keep me at home and if you wish, I will marry even the ugliest man in France.
I’ll be a kinder big sister to my brothers who act like toads, who refuse to obey.
Pity the Filles du Roi, who are not King’s Daughters! How can a true father obey?
(Today I’ll talk to sour apple trees, tomorrow, Papa, who’s like a fierce stranger.
Rain soaks the orchard, but I do not hate this mud; it is the fine mud of France!)
Mama and all her sisters cry, pray to the Virgin to keep me from this ship
sailing so many nights without candles. Suppose I turn yellow and die, Papa?
King Louis XIV, so great, cannot need a small girl like me to cross the ocean.
Jules talks of monsters bigger than ships that leap from the night’s black ocean,
steal maids off the decks to drag them deep. If Jules had riches would you obey
our King’s mad plan? Jules will have gold soon. He reads and writes, Papa!
True, he has no farm, cow, chickens, or hateful geese, but has the friendship
of the priest, goes to school, has been to Rouen, has met many strangers,
and thinks I’m pretty. Oh, not a rough man who fights pagans in New France!
I am not brave! I beg you to deny this white-wigged King of France,
bejeweled, powdered, rouged, who bribes the poor to cross the ocean.
The priest will praise you in church if you tell the king’s man that a foul ship
that sails, sails, sails to a place without women is no place for me. But, obey—
the village will think you no better than a Spaniard, a Dutchman, a stranger!
Even your loving wife might fight you and kick you from the bed. Papa!”
Eh, bien. Good-by my own France. Daughters must obey.
Your Marie will cross the ocean, lost in a passel of strangers.
But if I die on that ship, my ghost will come terrify my greedy Papa!