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Apr 2018
(NaPoWriMo Challenge: April 1, 2018)

“Who for Truth could die
When all about the owned the hideous lie!
The world redeemed from Superstition’s sway
is breathing free for thee sake today.”

--John Greenleaf Whittier
On the family memorial of Rebecca Towne Nurse,
Salem, Massachusetts

In the vault of personal history lessons
I bank this one from the Bay Colony.

History is family and how far we go back
is though the repetitions of American centuries

like seasons, back to the boat
where persecutions landed

and seeded in Salem farmsteads
with their mysterious pilgrim conceits.

Goodwife Nurse from Great Yarmouth
was 33 years in the new world

eight children and a mediator’s wife.
They said she was as good as good is,

an unlikely accused witch,
not allowed a lawyer

in a trial full of spectral evidence.
Rebecca was the martyr

who turned the tide of religious hysteria.
Thirty-nine signed the petition

that still survives in a museum
proving the pitifulness of petitions.

Innocence overturned,
reprieves reversed:

the trials of the women
who are hung in public.

Rebecca Nurse was frail and deaf
and the questions of her court floated away

unto justice and the silence
was taken as proof of her guilt.

They also said she could fly.

Years after the recants and vindications
and her house made historic

and her name found in a play
persecuting new persecutors

and new verdicts blaming Satan
or bad wheat

or boundary disputes among neighbors
or outspoken critics

who make themselves a target
of those they stand up against,

her family forgave everybody
but the village minister.

They hung a 71 year old woman
in 1962. And I tell myself,

they can hang you, too.

In the play, Rebecca stands at the gallows
and her children ask her why

she hasn’t said more in her defense.
Rebecca says she has lived long enough.

And she is credible and brave
before the judgements of God.

And if blood counts
and if I have one-eighth of her

in me, one-eighth of the defiance
against the loving dead,

that is something, as they say,
to take to the bank.

Not a story, not a claim, not a word
not a pulpit, not a altar, but a seed

in a hallowed bank of seeds.
These poems for NaPoWriMo were inspired by a poem I did years ago for my friend Michelle after hearing she passed away, 30 poems for inspiring women connected to me. The title now says "33 Women" because the poem to Michelle poem had already been written as well as two prologues I posted March 31. Some of their pictures are posted here:
Mary McCray
Written by
Mary McCray
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