Boston, Spring of 1775
Regarding Boston from the barracks where
the Regulars are quartered, fusiliers, light infantry,
grenadiers, marines, all shuffled willy-nilly through the spring,
I still think back on how I came, that dreadful voyage
all of sevens: a cabin seven feet wide, seven feet long, seven feet high,
for seven weeks, aboard the Friendship, crammed
together, we three women, our three children, tossed about
in gales and storms, bound for New York harbor in
service to the King.
The early days were fraught with storms,
with howling winds, with huge capped waves
that threatened to upset us, throw us in the deep.
Below decks was a misery, the other women stricken ill
with puking days and puking nights
and a ceiling-hung cradled infant mewling endlessly
with nary respite for a nod or sleep.
The stench was beyond bearing, retching bile, foul baby wastes,
souring the firmest gut to nauseated woe.
The cattle in the byres on England’s shores were better housed
than soldiers’ families sailing to the colonies.
My cabinmate was very sick, abed a fortnight if a day,
without a single meal at table for the livelong voyage.
So touchy, so ill-natured, so hard to please was she
that there was scarce no bearing her. I was most heartily tired of her
and wished the voyage at an end chiefly on her account.
Escaping her to open decks, I marveled in good weather
at following dolphins and flying fish. The Friendship
bore a mighty load of soldiers, women, babes in arms,
with all the goods to carry us across the seething main:
Sheep and hogs, fowls and ducks, bags of oats and bales of hay,
a Noah’s ark of creatures great and small, with all the stink
such animals create in spaces cramped and airless.
Green tea, sugar brown and sugar white, eggs and lemons,
flour and mustard, and of course the potables:
Rum and brandy, bottled porter, shrub and wine
plus coffee, currants, pickled tongues, potatoes, onions,
parsnips, turnips, leeks, all manner of spices and herbs.
Indeed it was a crowded craft that bore us to New York.
Within a year, scarce before we were settled,
off to Boston we were sent to quiet the rebellion
cooking up like so much pottage on the hearth.
All the days the marching, training, we unwelcome visitors
come here to scare the rebels to their senses.
Yet not just scourges are we to them—
People have befriended us at wells and shops
that serve us, whig and tory, militia and regular.
Given time we can find common ground,
melt the violence, the anger, misunderstandings
that cleave our brotherhood. One King reigns over all–
the colonies mere outposts of England, if afar.
Preparing for war, our fervent hope for peace.