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Martha Vertreace-Doody's Poetry


Julia, my baby, sits on the rug near the hearth, her head
on my knee. Not afraid,
she whimpers, when wind creaks the door,
a frostbitten traveler seeks shelter. Not afraid, yet fire
lights her eyes like candles in frosted windows.

My hand on her back stills her as I speak of reports
in the Sangarrio Journal, homesteaders—
                                whose end I have not heard—
who flee Springfield reeling like schoolboys with stones,
giddy to hunt squirrels;
                ox-drawn wagons bound for California.
Soft fireside. Sap boils in the wood when the man
spits his throat dear.

With each crack his eyes melt shadows.
At first, he says, whispers of desert's dry hell;
                                then a mountain blizzard.
What food remains, eaten in frenzy. The snow says
hunker down. let the pass
shield you from wind scarring rock walls as the dying starts.

Not your father, I tell my daughter, only seven when February
cold lays him vaulted in his park.
The traveler's voice traps us in hearth fire.
Gaunt faces, he says, stretched over bone. One by one.
Ice when bellies clench with hunger.

And someone thinks. No. Says. Harvest the winter garden.
Hoarfrost grain. The meat quick frozen
                                the younger the beast.
Thou shalt not. Kill. Dominion over the dead. Taste
the flesh of yourself.
A clean death in pure snow.

Not child, not woman, at ten unable to sift truth from nightmare
my daughter hides tears in my hands
as the traveler reads
a brittle-yellow page from the California Star:
made meat of the dead bodies of their companions.