The Schwenkfelders. Co-winner of the 2009 Keystone Chapbook Prize, selected by guest judge Karen J. Weyant:
“Part history, part personal narrative, The Schwenkfelders tells the story of a persecuted people and a narrator who seeks answers to the stories of these people. . . Rebecca Lauren grapples with the questions of how to record family history while contending with the present. This collection travels from the outskirts of Hades to the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, but no matter where the poet takes us, we will never forget the lives of a father who sings along the river’s edge, a woman who cures whooping cough with a strand of hair, or even the narrator who skips stories and wishes across still water.”
Cover photograph of author’s ancestors provided by the author. Cover design by Kari Larsen.
Published: April 30, 2010 [125 copies]
Born in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, Rebecca Lauren teaches English at Eastern University in suburban Philadelphia. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Quarter After Eight, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. Her poetry reflects upon her German ancestors’ immigration and subsequent settlement in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her partner, Joe, and their dogs, Gus and Trudy.
Saddle bags stitched up for the ride, he’s sure this time
the land will open to him like a woman–
Hans Heinrich Yeakel on horseback, pockets full
of enough money to buy the entire Hamilton tract.
His daughters practice hard to become
their deceased mother. They wait at home
stitching samplers, serving supper on hollow platters,
sneaking baby dolls behind the barn for breast milk.
Their oldest brother, Balthasar, takes most fo his life
to go blind, but he’s seen more world than silkworms and ivy,
crawled his way onto starboard until even oceans
in all their cerulean mess cold not destroy him.
In three days, when Hans returns with the deed,
a woman takes Balthasar by the hand, shows him sight
of skin upon skin, teaches him to remember the soft acres
between her legs, ripe as field grass lifting to the plow.
As he packs his bags, Hans chatters on. He is pleased
that the land has proven fallow, wide
and warm to the touch, the way the Atlantic
stretched out her body for their crossing.
The children all take notice, even the budding
young ladies with hands that trace the undersides
of hidden seams: they rise silently now
in the darkness, until teeth become eyes.
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