the museum of americana

a literary review

Julia Ward Howe: Upon Observing Laura Bridgman In 1843 — Poetry by Christine Butterworth-McDermott

 
My eyes do not see the glory of the Lord this morning, Samuel.
Instead, I watch you with that child. You spell words
into her fourteen-year-old palm and she, deaf-blind, spells back.
The two of you share private conversations I can only guess at.
Your glance often rests on her stockinged knee. Even Dickens,
who I so admire, fell hard for that green velvet bow in her hair,
so it’s really no surprise to see you have fallen in love
with her full lips that smile at every achievement and every thing
given. There is no questioning yet. She does not know you well
enough to wonder what you get from pleasing her. The world
is now aware that “Mr. Howe’s findings show every human being
is perfectable through systematic education.” All because
Laura sits in my parlor spelling funny jokes: If one is “alone,”
than two must be “al-two.” Your hand lingers across
her shoulders. You two are all too together.

Fame courts you like a lover: Good for you, Samuel, for proving
we women have the capacity to learn—even those given nothing
at the start, who succumb to scarlet fever, who are thrown into worlds
of silence and darkness. No one else had heard these things
and you, for one, are listening. But, at night, in our bed, I speak
an old, old language you have quite dismissed. I press my fingertip
hard against the tabula rasa of your spine. I could trace the letters
of my name, but I imagine you, too, have grown deaf, blind, dumb.
My name is j-u-l-i-a, in case you’ve forgotten how to spell yourself.
 
 
~  ~  ~

Christine Butterworth-McDermott is the author of full-length collection of poems, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women (2012) and a chapbook, Tales on Tales: Sestinas (2010).  She is the founder and head editor for the online journal, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine.  Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, The Normal School, River Styx, Southeast Review, and others. She teaches in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas

Advertisements