from John Martin’s Scrap & Sketch Book, 1864-1866

They just showed up one winter day,
strolling down the bridge and startling
the men and the snow with their handsome
red dresses.

You know the kind of women I’m talking about,
the ones who bore a bad name. Well, those two
kept house up at Nowell’s old place. The boys
in town who didn’t care about character visited.
Disgraceful and noisesome transactions ensued.
Neighbors complained, of course.

Truth be told, Liz and Widow Clark captivated us.
Those two could act as fine as the finest lady
and curse worse than a drunken sailor.
Widow Plummer’s son—Crane we called him—
on account of the way his neck loomed above
that low collar coat he was so fond of wearing,
well, he took a liking to the Widow Clark.
He swooped in, married her, and flew her out of town,
all the way to California. Some years later, he came back to roost, alone.

Yep, we saw our share of strange women—some we hooted out of town—
but all of them together couldn’t compare to those two.
I remember that tall one, Big Eastern.
Oh, yeah, and there was Alabama Joe.
She showed up in town carrying nothing
but a mustard tin filled with pins, thread,
and needles. Done all her sewing and sleeping
on Birch Hill. One day it got cold and she disappeared.
Now Birch Hill’s the place the Irish bury their dead.


A former contributor to the museum of americana, Jennifer Clark is the author of a children’s book and three full-length poetry collections. Her newest book, Kissing the World Goodbye (Unsolicited Press), ventures into the world of memoir, braiding family tales with recipes. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her website is