Monday, October 18, 2010

Witch Hunt (Poem)

Witch Hunt

Betty Parris
the Reverend's daughter
started it all.

Orphaned Abigail Williams
and Ann Putnam
pointed children's fingers

They lost their heads
to fits
managed contortions

their ululations —
like venom
speeding its course
through veins —
signs enough
of mischief dark:

Anyone could be a witch.

she of black dogs
red rats and talking cats
yellow birds
and others' fortunes told

confessed she did
a mark put down
in a black man's book.

Sarah the Good
and a beggar
door to door
left unknown
and mumbled words

her too-timid Dorothy
too, just four.

Old Sarah
an Osborne
Salem Village's own
she'd not been
in church in a year

and Martha, a Corey
outspoken, unpopular
though never confessed
was questioned
on the spectral evidence

same as kindly Rebecca Nurse
who hard of hearing
answered not to sin:

each and the three done in.

John Alden of Boston
Deliverance Dane
a Joseph and Marys more
Sarah Pease
George Burroughs
John Proctor:
accused and arrested all.

Gossipy Bridget Bishop
herself described innocent
like a child
thrice widowed
hanged first
on Gallows Hill

the poppets —
in her victims' forms —
still on her cellar walls
pins stuck in them.

Nineteen more of two score
and a hundred strong
next gave up
breath at the end
of the hangman's noose
their devil's magic
both their error
and their guilt.

Giles Corey
heavy stones pressed
into death
he was but
a man
seventy plus one
refusing to answer
to the test.

Of the girls afflicted
just this is known:
Ann asked forgiveness
died unmarried
her grave not hers alone.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas

I wrote this poem for Tuesday's Blog Carnival, sponsored by Bridget Chumbley at One Word at a Time.

The Blog Carnival is a biweekly online event open to anyone. Participants write either original poetry or prose reflecting their consideration of the one-word prompt or topic. The prompt for October 19 is "condemnation".

At Bridget's place, you'll find a list of links to all of the Blog Carnival contributions, which are posted throughout Tuesday and often through to the end of the week.

The Blog Carnival's FaceBook page is here.

The prompt for the next Blog Carnival, scheduled for Tuesday, November 2, is "reconciliation". The complete schedule of prompts through the end of the year is available at Bridget's and also on the FaceBook page.


Anonymous said...

You are amazing, Maureen. Thanks for another wonderful contribution.

Hannah Stephenson said...

YEAH! I was thinking about witches...this is not just about reconciliation, but blame. Reconciling these God-fearing folk with malicious witches...quite inspiring.

We easily forget this part of American folklore.

Laura said...

This gave me chills. Now I need to go and research each name...I want to read each story. This is what you do, Maureen. You give and you teach and you awaken curiosity. What a powerful gift that is.

JeffHolton said...

Maureen, this was chilling. Fantastic. Heavy.

I actually knew so little about the facts of this until I happened to catch a two-page explanation of it this week in Sheila Walsh's "Honestly." The coincident timing that kept the details fresh in my mind made it even more meaningful.

Thank you for this.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I agree with Bridget -- absolutely amazing!

jenne' andrews said...

Hi Lovely M-- this builds beautifully to last eloquent lines-- everyone is spot on about how you so diligently bring hard and good things to the fore... it would be interesting to do a song cycle of personas re these remarkable women so unfairly persecuted. I always love to see the word ululation in a poem! xxxj

Lisa notes... said...

Has there been an age without condemnation? Your post makes me wonder how deeply this condemning thing is a part of our sinful nature. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

you sure know how to write 'em.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful, Maureen, as usual. Your poetry gives shivers.

Kathleen Overby said...

Laura wrote what I thought. Our old homeschool library still has a few Salem Witch hunt books. Now I want to dig them out and connect dots.

I have been thinking about names. Memorials - Holocaust, veteran, etc - have names read out loud over and over again. Names need remembering somehow. It gives a person honor.

jasonS said...

Wow, Maureen. Excellent poem. If we don't pay attention to history, we will repeat it. Sadly, we may not condemn people in the same way, but we condemn nonetheless...

Hazel I. Moon said...

Very timely post with Halloween just around the corner. So sad to think of these events in our history. Here I go sticking in pins again!

S. Etole said...

The last verse keeps bringing me back ...

Maureen said...


Ann was buried in an unmarked grave, along with her parents. It was forbidden to bury in consecrated ground those who lost their lives because of the witch hunts. That last line has meaning beyond the literal. There were more than a dozen others who died while jailed.