David Roderick

Priscilla Alden’s Sickness

Snow came to us then, and I was content to die
under queer clouds that burned over the fort.
The spades seemed to multiply, leaning everywhere:
against fences and coops, even against pews,
and their handles were as long and terrifying
as the whoops we sometimes took for tribal men,
but they were nothing, just shapes in the sassafras trees.
Such strange visions appeared during my delirium,
beach demons with claws, odd quadrupeds,
wings that staggered through dusk. And the clouds
always flowed above these creatures atlantically,
glowing with a fire that burned my forehead
and seared my feet with frost, and these clouds
were so astonishing I tried to draw them
in my skin with a lancet. But then a worm pulled
the disease from my body, and tea took my thirst,
and the loyal blankets warmed me on the cottage floor,
and on the morning of the seventh day I became myself
again and bent over the hearth while my husband’s body
twisted with illness. My wrists were thin and cold
but I endured them because I could hear axes chopping ice,
could hear Peregrine White shrieking from his cradle,
and because of this cold and sickness I knew we were part
of a land that meant nothing and would mean nothing
until the trees were cut and stones rolled into walls,
until our goats grazed and yielded firkins of cream,
and I felt, even through the cold that burned my fingers,
that by loving this place I might also love myself,
pour my pains into the river near Burying Hill
then watch them swirl and pull down toward the sea.

David Roderick
Priscilla Alden’s Sickness is reprinted from Blue Colonial (The American Poetry Review/Copper Canyon Press, 2006).