Poetry 2011 / Volume 42

Mother and Marmee — Ann Struthers

When Abigail Alcott died, Louisa May and her father
prepared to publish her journals-
she of the grey cloak and unfashionable bonnet
worn like her principles, the first paid social
worker in America who reported to the rich
benefactresses that she found the Irish immigrants
dirty, ragged, hungry, that her investigation of
causes showed that they were not stupid, drunken,
shiftless.   “Tell your husbands to pay their workers
a living wage!”

In Little Women Louisa May had given her
a fictive servant, an absent husband
fighting in the Union Army
because the real husband
indulged in Utopian schemes
for eating, farming, education,
spent money wildly when he had it;
bought fine ivory paper, thick as clotted cream,
heavy enough to bear the weight of his philosophy;
didn’t pay his bills.   Could tell from the sound
of the knock which angry creditor was pounding.

Louisa, builder of pastel worlds
where everyone was more or less good,
found in her mother’s journals
anger black as ink, resentment bone white,
and bitterness underlined and blotted.
She and Bronson built a fire
in the grate and watched the pages curl
into black roses, heard rage roar up the chimney.

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