the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2007



Melinda Thomsen

1692 Connecticut Witch Trial

I’m the daughter of Donald, son of Linda,
daughter of Katherine, daughter of Polly,
daughter of Catherine (with a C),
daughter of Lydia, daughter of Reuben,
son of Thomas, son of Elizabeth,
daughter of Elizabeth,
daughter of Elizabeth Clason
Who was Bownd hand & foot
& put into the water.
She swam Like a corck
& one laboured to pres her
into the water & she boyed up
like a corck
and apparently
was so impure the water
coughed her right up.
My great-times-nine grandmother
was accused even after two groups
of women searched her body
and found no devil’s mark.
The situation worsened
when Katherine Branch
testified my great-times-nine
grandmother caused her seizures
and ordered cats to throw rats
in her face. Her words piled kindling
on the pier and logs on the fire
or, in this case, added feet to a rope.
Fortunately, she was exonerated
when seventy-five townspeople came
to my great-times-nine grandmother’s side,
signing names or scrawling X’s
to the affidavit that saved her.
By October, Salem had hanged
Bridget Bishop from a knotted branch
and pressed Giles Corey under stones,
cutting over nineteen lines, ties and bones.
For me, my great-times-eight grandmother
was married and my great-times-seven
grandmother had been born and all
was spinning through those fragile rungs.

(Note: Lines 8-13 from testimony sworn on September 15, 1692, at Elizabeth Clason’s trial.)

Morning Happiness

I wanted to slip
on your sneakers,
cruise in these boats
while waiting for you
to shave, but I didn’t.
Instead, I became small,
so small
that I easily pulled
myself upon
its round plastic toe,
using the bottom lace
as my rope handle,
and shimmied up
each white criss-crossed lace
step until they fell slack
because of my weight.
I peered down
into the well
of your sneaker,
dark and deep
like the pupil
of your eye.
I sat on the padded
edge and let my feet dangle
and swing, skimming
each of my heels on the worn
down terrycloth of your sole
and fanned wafts of sourness
until my lungs could hold no more.

My Father’s Coffin

I’d thought a coffin was a bed
that closed up tighter, more snug
and luxurious than the looser
fitting capsule compartments
at the Fontaine Akasaka in Tokyo.
The coffin we chose for my father
was a beautiful dark brown maple,
the shade of his Steinway piano,
one we thought he’d enjoy even
though there was no room for a TV
to hang from the corner of its ceiling.
The satin sheets were shirred. Covered
buttons detailed the pillow, pleating
little stars that his head would rest on.
My brother bought him new shoes,
but why wear shoes to bed?
Do they wear new shoes—in Eden?
Won’t they scold us when we’re homesick?

Were they cross when my father dimmed
the lights at the Roger Sherman Inn
at the moment our oysters were served?
Were they surrounding him and saying,
"Now, you’re not supposed to miss
such earthly delights—it is better here."

(Note: Italicized lines are from Emily Dickinson poem, # 215, from The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson,
Thomas H. Johnson, Ed.)


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