Village Apothecary Shop, 1859

A blinding headache, choking cough, my room
spinning until New York is undone. 
                                    St. Nicholas Hotel—all of a piece—
its wide parlors, dining halls, fancy shops. 
We carriage to the apothecary.  Julia reads aloud to muffle noise: 
The sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky
darkness invades the world. 
From the gathering crowd, a soldier waves an old Herald,
shouts the headline:
                        Negro Insurrection at Harper’s Ferry.

In the shop, a trembling fireside. 
Men speak of the arsenal and armory taken, trains
shot at, telegraph wires cut, people dead, John Brown
            captured.
And what of those, dragged from homes
to sow what they cannot eat,
build what they cannot own? 
                                    The coming war will
come more quickly, not because of him
whose voice like Joshua’s horns against Jericho’s walls
                                                tremors the states—

now I have done—his last words at the courthouse
an unearned gift to the hooded hangman weaving black cords—
but in spite of him who summons Judgment Day
to a land still young enough, strong enough to change.

The scale, solid brass, balances the herbs my doctor writes:
peppermint oil, gum Arabic, lobelia—
                                    against too much heart weight,
he says, best cured by bleeding.  I cannot believe that.

—Martha Vertreace Doody

 

Home|Contents|Next