The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Christopher Conlon


Some tourists claim to hear the footsteps of Mary Surratt, hanged in 1865 for her role in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, wandering the upstairs rooms of her Clinton home to this day.  --Maryland Ghosts & Legends

Mary wakes. The ceiling
is unfamiliar, the bed
unknown. Her throat
burns. Her eyes ache.
She inhales, but can't
catch her breath: as if
the oxygen itself had been
pulled from the air,
sucked from her very
body. Where is she?
The bedroom in which
she lies niggles some
splintered memory, but
it's incoherent, lost.
She hears voices,
murmurings somewhere
beneath her, footsteps.
Her breath is shallow,
ragged. She tries
to stand, her bones
and muscles alarmingly
pained, as if she were
a two-hundred year old
woman, and she staggers
as she approaches the
window, looks out,
sees what she can't
be seeing--a world
as hallucinatory
as a vision of Mr. Poe's.
She's dreaming, surely;
she'll wake in her own
bed, in her own life,
far from this phantasm
before her of bright
metal carapaces
scurrying like monstrous
insects across
a black-ribbon road,
their colors as loud as those
of the disorderly women
she recalls from the City,
nightmare-beast carriages
which disgorge
from their dark innards
what appear to be human
beings, though shockingly
strange ones, naked
in their sleeveless shirts
and children's skirts,
their hatless hair wild
and askew in the breeze.
This is not the world,
not her world, not
1823 or 1840, not
1865, not even--
but that's the last year
that comes to her, the last
she can articulate in her
mind, other future numbers
stubbornly black, blank.
She turns from the window,
clenches shut her eyes, tries
to will herself back
to her life, her real life,
and she begins then
to weep, her face hot
as with pneumonia
or malaria, a gagging,
dying sound rattling
in her throat as she sways
with terror, thinking Father,
Our Father That Art
In Heaven, heart
hammering in her chest,
lungs empty of air
while the voices from below
draw nearer--demons,
perhaps, the Devil himself
crawling toward her,
preparing to engulf
her sin-filled soul, Father,
Our Father, as she hears
odd, impossible words--
her name, spoken aloud,
Mary Surratt, the accent
that of a Yankee yet,
somehow, not, and then
other words, words she tries
not to hear, words that make her
pace the floor, wring her hands,
groan: Lincoln and hanged,
conspirator and ghost.
Her throat burns. Her eyes
ache. Her body shakes
wildly, in grief, in agony,
as she moves to a far corner
of the room, huddles there,
curls up tight, palms
covering her eyes, Father,
Our Father, praying that
if she's quiet enough,
unobtrusive enough,
good enough,
the nearing voices
will fade off, die away,
leave her alone here
in silence, allow her
simply to breathe,
to rest. At last. In peace.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication