When families kill their own, they spill
no darker blood, leave no fouler stain.
And the gods drawn to its stench
punish all who bear the family name.
i. ALL THE DARKNESS LOOKS ALIVE
[A forest at the border of the Town of Portsmouth
in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, AD 1692]
Sweat lingers on the leaves, revealing a path to father
as Richard trudges swamp and forest greeting prophecy,
muddied by dark water, haze following him to conjure
on his humid wedding-day, a more sinister promise;
b(l)inding circles, white fingertips prick a pit he’ll wander
with her for hours, sword-drawn words reddened for their slaughter.
Innocent fumbling, kisses him as she trickles laughter;
her hand a gift unwrapped, sent up from a buried father,
these two have journeyed too far into the wood to wander
farther; not in matrimony, but into prophecy,
what blood they’ve shared Mephistopheles has made them promise,
as errant ancestors to whatever brood they conjure.
ii. WHERE THE WILLOW DOES NOT WEEP
[At a confluence of the waters of the Townships of Falmouth,
Newport, Cornwallis, and Horton in the Province of Nova Scotia, AD 1760–1898]
Mosquitos meet longboats gliding in with a conjurer;
a Scorpio and his heir unaware of their slaughter—
Perry, son of Samuel, joins him to survey promised
lands someday he’ll expand after taking them of father;
exiled by harbours, they’ll never face again—prophecy
causing hearts to harden and Amy, his wife, to wander.
Broken, sons into two lines file; they plant and they wander
their quarter-million acres of crimson earth to conjure
up c(l)ubs of lions young Joseph runs from; as prophesied,
his seventh-born, Hezekiah, walks home into slaughter;
daylight disappearing on the path back to his father,
unheard from until they honour their Grandsire’s promise.
iii. AMBITIONLESS WHISPERS SILENCE KEEPS STILL
[At harbour’s edge within the limits of the City of Halifax
in the Province of Nova Scotia, AD 1890–2010]
Industry draws out from the Valley, through its new promise
of progress, along veins of iron rail on which wanders
another Samuel, called unknowingly for fathers
who, centuries prior, failed to answer what they’d conjured;
burdened by their due, he goes—knowing too well that slaughter
always follows closely the rotting scent of prophecy.
Into the city with his boy Wilkie, to prophecy
the men drink a toast; grandfathering in a new promise
onto the old: an addendum intended to slaughter
this curse itself—a clause into which poor Chester wanders,
uncertain if little John is strong enough to conjure
the quiet mind needed to free him and be a father.
Eyeing the storm his inheritance calls him to wander,
Jonathan tastes its wind, and within, begins to conjure
what will free them from the creditor who took his father.
1Euripides, Medea, lines 1243–1246; written for, and first performed upon, the Athenian stage in 431 BC. Translated by Michael Collier, 2006, in The Complete Euripides: Volume V: Medea and Other Plays, edited by Peter Burian and Alan Shapiro, Oxford: Oxford University, 2011; page 193.