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The Missouri Review 27.3 (2004) 101-106

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The Good Newes from Plimoth

Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.
—William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation

1. Landing

The right foot slips on a Rock
      but the left foot plants into sand,
      first steps of an infant
colony near a wrack-line of driftwood and kelp.
      Two shallops keel over the tide:
Strangers and Saints locking elbows in the froth.
      An ocean's fatigue.
A line of goodwives climbing the dune's spine.
      They have baskets or children
in their arms, iron pots, spools.
They walk toward hornpout and otter fat,
      toward the gleam of a minted name,
      but above them the sky
is spoiled cream, clabber from the bottom of a pail.

2. Path

Down through the dark woods
into the chambers of His imagery,
marked snakes and creeping things,

wings that glide over
our path during cider season,
through this dark place

to the wooden chalice
and the pews of our dirt-swept meeting house,
see the candle of the Lord walking. [End Page 101]

3. The Second Crop

The sound from the woods was not the Lord
      or a cry from the Devil.
It came from men we saw through spyglasses.
            They stole from the trees
      and taught us strange plantings:
maize under black soil, pockets of beans
      near our graves. They used the shoulder bones
of elk to cut the earth, crude tools
            that called for better skills.
We saw our breath and our horses' breath.
      We sowed through crow-talk
and laid out snares for the wolves.
            When our stalks reached
the size of a child's finger, we buried
      eels in their roots, then we nursed
the ground around them with beachwort and sand.

4. Edward Doty's Confession

I stole. A hucklebone. A spyglass lens. A scroll of costly paper. Soon Bradford would know and lock me in stocks near the square. I failed to ward off the Devil's voice. The spice of his fever burned through my arm and hand. Next a tiny hatchet. Next a powder horn from the cloak of Sam Fuller's son.

With a pouch of bullets, I struck out to hunt for gamebirds. For once the sun was not my master, not a rusted barrel hoop, not a week's work at the stone boat. An hour was mine, then another hour, until the shadows of afternoon clouds seemed to live around me.

5. Two Weathers

First the sea came true
      and then the land because the bones
of their followers [End Page 102]

found hard earth,
      foothold and roothold,
pine pitch stains on their clothes.

      Clouds memorized them
and moved on,
      cool shadows pulled by a pagan wind.

      Because every false doctrine
stingeth like a viper,
      they built a gunport and fort,
a row of lathed pews,
and when phlegm
      rattled in their preacher's chest,
they waited for another messenger,
      someone to write their names
      with a seagull's wing.

Why did they own this silence?
      What led them to this far place
where all the wrong animals lived?

Beneath the snow there were brambles
      and beneath the brambles clay,
      the hardest layer
they named for the English king.

Bare-boned winters. Drenched hair.
Coins in the mouth of a fish.

All they wanted was a flawless green,
      a sky that smelled like rain,
something more sacred
      than a rabbit pelt nailed to a tree.

6. Elizabeth Hopkins and the Cold Snap

We feared for our lives when His drum sounded
halfway down the sky, so after filching the cribs
of last fall's leavings, we stewed some hay
and sucked on alewife bones. The standard [End Page 103]
prayers held no sway. Our cord of wood
began to dwindle, and ice stenciled the faults


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