1. Some ladies in Boston raised the twenty pounds.
    How had she fared among the savages
    they asked. She'd sewn a shirt
    for her captor's little son
    from a new pillowslip of Holland lace
    they'd stripped off her own bed before they burned it.
    For that he gave her six roast ground-nuts
    and a small bloody piece of horse's liver
    which she gulped raw. Never had I bit
    so savoury…
  2. Rehearsed and never quite believed in
    that moment when the curtain dimity, velvet
    (the face of terror) slashed naked
    the cloak now avails
    before the scouring wind of His permission
    demonic gashes of black paint
    she faces the masks
    she masks her terror even even when
    husband on your return oh even now
    riding turn turn back
    (the trestle table overturned
    and pewter rolling in the deathly silence
    after the screaming is stilled.)

    And all along she knew
    about this open savage world
    where bear wolf fox
    but oh, even here God’s mercy
    surmounting man’s cruelty
    —was that an owl that hooted in broad day?
    So close? A fox that barked? An axe
    there in the doorway.
    Now she is in some inner circle
    of hell. They slashed right through
    her ordered spheres. I bore this
    as well as I could
    she glances up
    into the deepening cup of blue
    that has its center surely still in Him?
    If she could find her way —

    stumbling through woods — a fallen birch —
    somehow climbs over it with torn hands,
    ripped skirt — blood on her arms — the baby?
    He is carrying it, the same who —
    Was it just this morning? Was it just?
    Was it God's punishment? This morning
    has no beginning — she has from eternity
    been stumbling through the forest.
    The wilderness has sent its spirits
    to fetch her — but what of the Lord's Holy Spirit?
    You are not touched nor injured.
    There was no resisting…

    Splashing through swamps beyond the known world.
    How many miles guarded, impenetrable, by alders?
    Terra incognita. Her terror
    somewhat abates. Ebbs toward exhaustion.
    He, burdened with spoils, still carries
    her new-born baby. Leads her
    which I took to be a favour from him
    by the hand through streams.
    She murmurs to her older daughters,
    lifts her small Eben over mossy logs,
    treads brambles underfoot. Not daring
    to appear troubled or show much uneasiness lest —

  3. At the side of the river
    the Indians would have my oldest daughter
    sing them a song.
    Then was brought to my remembrance the psalm,
    “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
    yea we wept when we remembered Zion.” And my heart
    was very full of trouble.

    He scowls, impatient.
    “Now then! Red Otter, powerful river-woman,
    you have come to listen. Quickly
    you have arisen. You will carry me across,
    you will take me to the far bank,
    you walk strongly through the current,
    you play in the cold waters,
    you have come to listen. Sharply!”

    His song steadying the water,
    his friends each greeting the river.
    But the captives — who will teach them,
    ignorant and rude? “Sing!
    Sing the white man's greeting.
    Or River-woman will drown you.”

    “For they that carried us away captive
    required of us a song”

    Up to their necks in the river,
    “oh spare” — and the boy on his shoulders
    yea, the Red Sea did part for them
    and if I put one foot before the other —
    the rocks slippery as glass — my baby
    rest safe against my shoulder —
    “Sarah — your sister's hand”
    careful — the water's gentle — so.

    “Red Otter this woman and her young
    have a white spirit,
    you are hearing of it, you are listening,
    they are crossing the water,
    their spirit greets you.”

    After the river, mountains —
    breathless clinging to granite spurs,
    her flesh still tremulous from childbed
    and craving rest — and Eben starting up in terror
    each night. She tries to hold
    some picture — a map — in her head,
    looks back — pebbles
    agleam in moonlight, marking the trail?

    Is there a way back?
    Does God still see her plainly,
    lost among the endless trees? (In his sleep
    Eben cried out “Papa! Papa”!)
    Oh, riding after them! Blot out
    the image swimming before her eyes
    — he, arrived home, quickly surrounded, clubbed —
    Dear Lord! He lives. Though she
    as in a nightmare, works her laboring way
    further and further from his reach.
  4. Having by this time
    got considerably on the way —
    through blaze of autumn maples,
    notes the wild loveliness, as one might say
    one and one makes two.

    Mercifully, a halt. Sinks down,
    unbuttons her bodice for the suckling child
    while her own stomach gripes with hunger,
    having at times nothing to eat
    but pieces of old beaverskin coats
    used more for food than raiment.

    “Sarah, help Eben, he would search,
    poor mite, for cranberries.”

    The Indians are at some distance,
    talking. Low voices, angular gestures —
    she shivers, watches
    with downcast lids. “Mary, you have learned
    some words, what” — do not meet their eyes.
    Having got considerably on the way,
    the Indians parted, and we
    must be divided amongst them.
    This was a sore grief to us all.

    The short one with thick braids
    is coming toward them
    takes Sarah by the hand, points
    toward the Western hills. “Mama?”
    Throat dry, eyes frantic from one to the other,
    leaps — “my Sarah!” — to her feet, the baby
    put down in haste. Holds her, will not
    be moved, not let her go, face
    pressed into her shoulder — “child” —
    My eldest daughter was first taken away.

    We did not travel far
    before they took my second daughter from me,
    I having now
    only my babe at the breast
    and little boy six years old.

  5. He watches, awake in the deep forest —
    Union-of-Rivers and Bear, those shining ones,
    skunk-tree sisters talking all night long.
    They say frost, they whisper
    far, alone. Mooneye. Wind from good hunting.
    Answer-stone in his right hand.
    Owl pipe shares his breath, smoke
    blown in the four directions.

    Brings-me-luck sleeps.
    White like death yet lives,
    hair like sacred pollen —
    Brings-me-luck. Awiyah, antlered one
    see she brings no misfortune to me.

    Best he kills them? A white trail
    where sickness walks? A notch in the circle
    where good luck streams in for him.
    The axe lies alive at his side but
    it is no, it is sleeping — she sleeps, moans,
    little Hold-tight curled against her.
    Coins like grains of corn
    will flow into his hand
    from his captives. Ha, the forest people.
    Old woman birch has never seen
    such ones — white bark like hers —
    do not belong here.
    Belong to him. We will pass through quickly.
    Soon snow will fill our footprints.

    At night I was both wet and tired exceedingly,
    lying on the cold ground
    in the open woods.

  6. Bone-weary, one foot before the other,
    Our shoes and stockings being done
    and our clothes worn out in that long journey
    and the weather coming in very hard
    — little Eben
    drags at her skirt until she feels
    she walks for both, and when he stumbles
    she falls, bruising her knee.
    She feels the blood
    drain from her face. Prays she has not
    been noticed.

    A memory haunts her: she, a young wife,
    in Deerfield with her husband on his business.
    The great Mr. Williams is to preach that day.
    She is afraid to ask, they being Quakers,
    if she might hear the famous minister,
    captured by Indians and newly freed
    by the grace of God. And lo, the Lord
    (foreknowing her future need)
    moves John to grant her wish before she asks.

    To know that others have walked this trail,
    have suffered like her, have won through to redemption
    — it strengthens her, hope surges through her body.
    I will survive, according to thy will, I and my children.

    And suddenly she aches with wanting.
    To feel John's arms around her one more time.
  7. By a sweet stream, a clearing.
    Corn-hills, familiar, a dear sight
    beside the wigwams strewn like woody baskets
    among the birches — a kind of little shelter
    made with the rinds of trees.

    How still the women — their dark eyes
    not unkind? Watchful. She too. Eben
    behind her skirt, peeps out
    at her master's little naked boy.
    Dare she sit down?

    She starts, chokes back a scream —
    at the clearing's edge,
    a band of painted savages, a din
    like hail or a whole nest of rattlesnakes —

    “He has returned with gifts.
    Bear made his heart fierce.
    Wolf was shadow in the forest.
    Crow saw keenly, saw the unknown land.
    He with his companions approached the hostile place.
    Blood was on the enemy's sleeping robe.
    Death was on the enemy's hearth.
    The work of his axe was they-do-not-rise.

    He has returned
    with gifts of beauty.
    He does not forget the women
    who wait for him.
    He does not forget his brothers.”
    The Indians welcomed my master home
    with dancing, shouting and beating on hollow trees
    which, I suppose, in their thoughts
    was a kind of thanks to God
    put up for their safe return and
    good success.

    “My husband has brought you,
    white woman and your children.
    You will share our wigwam and our work.”

    They touch her arms, breathe in
    her strange, pale scent.
    They murmur over the whiteman gifts
    — a great black iron kettle.
    Knives that bite through moosehide
    as though it were the finest fawnskin,
    scarlet wool the captive
    woman knows how to fashion into stockings.

    “My son has brought you to us.
    You will share our corn and meat.”

    In plentiful time I felt the comfort of it,
    having a portion given
    for me and my little ones
    which was very acceptable. When flesh was scarce
    we had the guts and garbage
    allowed us. But pinching hunger
    makes every bitter thing sweet.

    Her hands are willing. She cuts wood,
    gathers nuts and acorns. Fetches water
    in a birchbark bucket
    cunningly stitched with pine roots.
    Spotted Deer minds the baby,
    wraps it snug on her own cradle board,
    sings Little Partridge, Little Star-eye to it
    — why does Brings-me-luck frown? But the baby
    cries, cries — a thin hunger-wail —
    does she not fear to anger him? He will flare.

    I was brought so low my milk dried up,
    my baby very poor and weak.
    I could perceive its bones
    from one end of its back to the other.

    She fills her mouth with water, dribbles it
    down her breast into the baby's mouth.
    Are all white women thus helpless? Sees-the-Sun
    pounds walnuts for it into paste,
    boils them with cornmeal.
    It began to thrive,
    which was before more like to die than live.

  8. Spotted Deer is tickling the baby
    pressing her face against its belly.
    The baby's spirit has crept into her own,
    a small raccoon into a mossy hollow
    — if she could keep it?
    Why after Little Feather
    have no more come?

    Would he give her the baby?
    But Brings-me-luck — she tries to think
    how it was: led from her wigwam
    by men in their beautiful, violent paint,
    the days and nights in the forest,
    her strange, flimsy moccasins
    and dress that tears on every branch.

    She has seen Brings-me-luck weep,
    and felt shame for her.
    But again and again the picture comes —
    Brings-me-luck in her wigwam
    sitting on lace instead of furs
    and the black kettle bubbling.
    She is making cloth with two sticks.
    Why is her husband not there?

    She offers her a handful
    of her best dyed porcupine quills.
    But Brings-me-luck has not been properly taught.
    Spotted Deer shows her
    how they weave in and out of deerskin,
    but her hands refuse to understand.
    There are tears in her pale eyes.

    Spotted Deer frowns, thinks
    I would not disgrace my lineage like that
    and turns back to the baby.
    It coos, and the two women's glances meet.
    Both are soft with love.
  9. It is the Lord's day. She has put aside
    her master's half-knit stocking. Has permission
    to visit the old squaw
    whose wigwam skirts the clearing's furthest edge
    — slips past, into the woods,
    with Eben at her heels, the boy
    as stealthy in his moccasins as any Indian.

    She leans against a rough-barked spruce,
    imagines herself at Meeting, wills herself
    among the congregation, close beside him
    — dear God, may he be well!
    Sarah, Mary — Holy Spirit, thy grace —
    the blessing of His presence — her heart lifts —

    “Mama.” Eben holds out
    a fan of bronze and crimson leaves.
    “ — because they killed the sky bear. That's his blood
    on the leaves in fall, I saw him
    among the stars last night. Little Feather showed me — ”

    Jolted out of herself — “child!
    What dreadful untruths — 'tis their heathen tales.
    You must not” — only God
    can redden these woods, redeem
    all fallen nature with His blood,
    redeem His captive people —

    neither could I ever think
    but that our lives would be preserved
    by the overruling power of Him
    in whom I put my trust both day and night.

  10. Then it was that the Lord
    struck my master with great sickness
    and violent pain —

    He burns with fever, he shivers
    — what creature has sent this thing?
    Bear, thick-fur, you are not offended,
    the hunters give back your bones,
    they are robed in strength,
    you feast with the people,
    your spirit is not offended.

    Deer, silent suddenly-there,
    you wait at the killing place,
    the stamping of your hoofs is come-my-brothers,
    the people honor your flesh,
    your spirit is not offended.

    But black ice fastens upon his bones,
    he breathes pain.
    Ghost-woman bends and sways
    there in the shadows, white
    mushrooms gleaming on dead wood
    — each blow he struck
    now striking his own skull,
    the stick he flung yesterday at her cub
    pounding his ribs.

    My child was much bruised,
    and the pain made him pale as death.
    I entreated him not to cry —

    Sees-the-sun puts on her snowshoes,
    folds a pair of newly beaded leggings
    into her deerskin pouch.
    In the next village lives a m'teoulin,
    a man of power.
    She starts along the barely visible trail.

    Birch girls go beside her
    clothed in blue lichen; glimpse
    of red-fur, snow birds —
    does the burnt skunk-tree still stand
    still put out new green needles
    in hunger-moon?

    But her spirit trembles.
    May he be well,
    may the evil thing leave him —
    may the great dying not return — death
    feasting in every wigwam. Let healing come —

    She stares. Above the trees, black shape,
    fringed wings sweeping the air,
    harsh voice — her birthname, secret self —
    she stands, rooted in stillness, breathes
    “Grandfather Raven” — fierce dark eye
    fastened to hers — yes, and yes

    gone. Power song pouring
    from her throat
    there on the snowy trail.

    Wind-fingers streak her face —
    how far has she come? Already
    the first meat-drying racks are visible.
    She makes a quick prayer to the four directions.
  11. Beside the sick man, the m'teoulin
    prepares the plant called when-their-saliva-is-bitter,
    sings the chant of driving it out.

    “Now then! You have come to listen,
    Little Whirlwind, wizard!
    Among the stretched-out branches of the mountain
    You sweep it away
    You toss it about
    You scatter it

    You and I facing each other
    Little Whirlwind, wizard! You do not fail
    You drive it into the marsh
    You brush it away.
    Healing has been done,
    It has been done indeed. Ha-yi!”

    Tobacco smoke cool cloud
    against his forehead,
    bitter, healing drink
    over his swollen tongue
    carrying away the evil thing.

    He soon recovered,
    nor do I remember
    he ever after struck me or my children again.
    This I took as the Lord's doing,
    and it was marvellous in my eyes.

  12. The circle of the People
    is broken, and power streams out of it.
    He dreams a moose across the river,
    but no moose comes to his gun.
    Beaver woman has left her lodge
    and taken all her people with her.

    He is shamed. Spotted Deer and Sees-the-Sun
    boil an old horse's foot
    in the black iron kettle
    but the broth gives no strength.
    Little Feather
    lies curled like a puppy on his deerskin
    and will not play
    and will not wear his fine new shirt.

    A handful of groundnuts
    turns to foul slime in his fist.
    Snow hides the sky, the trees
    groan with it. At night
    Sees-the-sun coughs. Blood
    speckles her sleeve.

    I dreaded his returning empty
    and prayed secretly in my heart
    that he might catch some food —

    But he comes back with nothing,
    in a rage. His eyes search the wigwam.
    “Too many bellies to fill” —
    stroking his axe. Spotted Deer
    turns rigid, glances
    at Brings-me-luck shrinking in the shadows.
    “Ransom would bring us food” she murmurs.

    “Whiteman food! Who knows
    if anyone will buy her?
    And the journey is long and bitter —
    she will die on the way.”

    Sees-the-sun stands, faces him
    but will not anger him by meeting his eyes.
    “Brings-me-luck has brought ill fortune to us.
    Her white smell frightens the deer.
    Her coming and going offends Beaver Woman.
    Her son eats Little Feather's food.
    But killing her will fasten her spirit
    upon our wigwam. Evil
    will dwell with us. At last the village
    will cast us out.

    My son, it is long
    since you summoned the small spotted ones,
    the good tribe underground.
    Their words have always been true.
    Let them help us now.”

    He scowls, but the next night
    he builds a little lodge
    of saplings. Makes fire. The women
    see the branch walls bulge and shake.
    They peep between the cracks.

    Fire shines on him. Around the blaze
    the salamander tribe with yellow spots
    stand upright, flicking their tongues.
    He listens.

    After this he would not suffer me
    in his presence.
    We made another remove,
    it being two day’s journey,
    and mostly upon the ice.
    He took me to the French
    and I was with my baby ransomed;
    my little boy likewise at the same time
    was redeemed also.