Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of four poetry collections, editor of several anthologies, winner of the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, and initiator of Poetry in the Parks. Named Poet of the Year by the New England Association of Teachers of English, she founded the CT Coalition of Poets Laureate and is publisher of Grayson Books.
For many years Ginny taught English in her hometown of West Hartford. In her new book, "Toward the Hanging Tree," she has looked into the heart of the Salem witchcraft mania, telling the story from multiple points of view. Below are three poems from the book.
– Rennie McQuilkin, CT poet laureate
Joseph Leech Does His Duty
Not a job I ever set out to do
but as assistant sheriff
I do what Corwin tells me to.
Bridget Bishop was the first.
A stubborn woman, she wouldn't admit
to witchcraft, even at the end,
when it might've helped her some.
Most likely she was a liar. She showed
no shame for all her wicked ways,
but what if—
No matter. I had to guide her
up the ladder. Her legs was shaking. She clung hard
to every rung and had to be prodded some
to go on up. The rain was done,
the heat was out. Sweat—it made my shirt stick,
and trickled down my sides. Gnats swarmed us so,
I wished I could swat 'em away, but my hands
held the ladder and urged the witch woman on.
Bridget Bishop. Truth is she smelled. Her neck
was grimy; her hair hung in oily clumps. A smell
of musk, of fear, sour and heady all at once
came roiling toward me.
One rung at a time we went up. Crowd below us
shouted things, horses side-stepped
and snorted. A boy threw a rock that went
skittering past the witch's cheek.
Oh God, Oh God, she muttered,
and then she retched. Little gold specks
floated before my eyes and sparked—
I wondered if it was her doing.
Some sort of last-minute spell.
How shameful if I fell! I'm no witch
she told me. My death will be
a darkness on your soul. But I
had my duty and I did it.
They passed the black hood up to me
which I placed around her head
while she protested, twisting around,
staring at me with huge gray eyes in a face
so pale she might've already been dead.
I reached for the noose that hung
from a sturdy branch. Arranged it
around her neck, almost tenderly.
These would be her last moments.
With another length of rope
I tied her hands behind her back,
the hemp stiff and splintery.
What makes someone a witch? For years
she lived among us and we didn't know.
She was crying harder now,
and between the sobs sucking in breaths
like someone about to drown.
Shaking some. A minute passed,
an hour, or a day. A feeling sneaked
into me: glad it was not me with a noose
around my neck. A final prayer said.
Then Corwin called up the command.
I sucked in some wind and I did it,
just did it—pushed her from the ladder.
A roar from below. The ladder shook.
Carefully I climbed down while she swung
and twisted in the air. Kicked her feet.
A field of sparks before my eyes.
A cold sweat. Had to rush toward the bushes
for this was my first hanging, and I was weak.
Abigail Gets Ready to Shout
I never think on my dead parents,
dead sister. That part of my life is blank,
an emptiness. Past. You could say it's full
of all I have not got. Some nights
even the moon is missing, but today
is strange. A pale moon floats like a wafer
in part of the sky, even while the sun
rules the rest. A rooster keeps crowing
though it's nearly noon. He likes to make noise.
I do too. I like to be heard. Like to be looked at.
When girls are too good they're invisible,
done for, as good as dead. A drawing
sticked into the dust, and then rubbed out.
The air is restless today, and the village fills
with horses and footsteps, whispers, shouts.
Bodies rushing by. Crowds hustle to the meeting house
where I'm appearing with Annie and Mercy,
Susannah, and others. We're called the Afflicted.
The judges stare over their spectacles at us.
Neighbors too. They wonder just who is a witch,
and who is not. I steady myself, breathe in. I'll let
the terror roll over me, share my torments,
cry out, accuse, accuse, point a trembling finger
at some woman or man who feels righteous—
but is not. I'll have the people look at me,
and listen hard. I'm not afraid to shout. Some girls
may fade like shadows do when the light goes out,
but I—most definitely—will not.
Thomas Remembers Ranger
My bold friend Henry
who tracks game like a savage
and whoops like one too, at times,
obedient to his parents, but wild in the woods—
my good friend Henry,
They took his dog away and hanged it
from the tree at Gallows Hill,
just as they did the other witches.
For Mary Warren said that when Ranger looked at her
he held a little growl in the back of his throat
that sounded much like the devil
and gazed at her with unblinking, evil eyes.
His eyes are really golden, like honey
and though Ranger's mostly black,
there's a white circle 'round his left eye.
And a blaze of white on his chest.
Panting and patient, Ranger would lie in the dirt
while we picked burrs and bristles from his fur
and flung away ticks, and scratched him just behind
the ears, while his tail went thump, thump, thump.
They hanged the dog on Saturday.
And Henry cried.
All poems copyright © 2016 by Ginny Lowe Connors.
CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin selects work for CT Poets Corner by invitation.