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For Mariam Gertrude Peckham, 1846-1914
by Lucille Lang Day

In autumn she picked apples, packed the good ones in barrels,
and husked corn on the back porch, storing
some for winter fodder, grinding the rest for johnnycake.

She piled yellow pumpkins in the cellar
while the children gathered walnuts, butternuts
and chestnuts—mostly to sell, but plenty to eat.

Sweet cider, which filled her china pitcher
through the fall, was kept
for vinegar when it started to work.

On snowy nights Mariam sat at her desk
and wrote that women should wear pants in public,
attend the universities, and vote.

It was often after midnight when she went upstairs
to the room where Henry was sleeping
under a star-patterned quilt.

He'd wake when she crawled in.
Splinters of moonlight pierced the shutters
clattering in wind.

In March, snow melting, Henry tapped
the maple trees and took the sap inside
for Mariam to strain and boil down.

She sold her articles to magazines,
sewed for neighbors, and ran a millinery shop,
all the while dreaming of a world where women

could enter any profession.
She told Henry, and he nodded as she tacked
a red silk rose to a hat.

from the collection Wild One (Scarlet Tanager Books, 2000).


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