The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Monday

I Am Afraid
By Anna Hajnal

I am afraid . . .
        what if I were Ilia,
        the wild duck who drowns, feathers flooded in oil?

I am afraid . . .
        what if I were Algernon,
        the little white mouse trapped in the labyrinth?

I am afraid . . .
        what if I were Pompilius,
        the dog grafted with cancer in the name of science?

I am afraid . . .
        what if I were Little Moon,
        the bull calf honored to be sacrificed for the feast?

I am afraid . . .
        what if I were Bonny,
        the ape cast into space to die of loneliness?

And I am afraid . . .
        because I am Anna,
        who knows all this,
        who lives until these debts can be repaid.

The House of the Seven Gables with Salem Harbor beyond. This year marks the 200th birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne and all of Salem seems to be celebrating, as he was connected with the things for which the city is famous -- seafaring trade, literature, witchcraft and the struggle with religious intolerance.

Before going to Salem, however, we started our day at Saugus Iron Works, a working blast furnace, forge, slitting mill and sailing transport rebuilt on the site of the original from the 1640s. This is where the first cast and wrought iron were produced in North America.

It also happens to be a beautiful national park site, set on the river chosen to provide power, transport and nearby lumber for the ironworks. There are rangers at the forge and bellows at different times; iron is worked here. There's also a room full of artifacts from the original 350+ year old site.

The Old Burying Point Cemetery in Salem, backing up to the Witch Trials Memorial. The victims are not buried here -- indeed, no one is certain where they are buried, since they could not be buried in consecrated ground; apparently it is believed that their families took them from Gallows Hill and interred them privately. The stones in this cemetery date to the 1600s, and include a judge from the trials and a Mayflower passenger.

In front of the Salem Witch Museum, a statue of Roger Conant, the first settler of Salem in 1626.

At the New England Pirate Museum, a model of Rachel Wall, the last woman hanged in Massachusetts; though she admitted to piracy, she denied having killed the man for whose murder she was executed.

The front of the Custom House. At one time, I learned today, 90 percent of US revenue came from taxes on imports. Nathaniel Hawthorne worked here and based parts of The Scarlet Letter on his experiences as a customs inspector.

The light at the end of Derby Wharf. During the early 1700s, local merchants traded local fish, lumber and manufactured goods all over the world, bringing in so many imports that its captains met people in Asian ports who believed that Salem was an independent country. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, many of the merchant vessels became privateers and helped make the US a naval power.

As far as witches are concerned, Salem is an astonishing mix of emotional history and extreme kitsch. The most hyped Wiccan store in town, Crow Haven Corner, isn't particularly better stocked than The Walnut Tree back home and is considerably less impressive than The Psychic Eye in Los Angeles. The Salem Witch Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum and Salem Witch Village, while earnest in their attempts to educate about the history, practices, hysteria and modern manifestations of witchcraft, are rather sensationalistic. I suppose they're aimed at people who know absolutely nothing about either the history of the region or about Wicca, but they seemed rather naive to me. (We didn't go to the wax museum but the pairing of the witch trials and "the exploits of bold seafarers" did not sound promising.)

On the other hand, the memorials and more significantly the number of residents and tourists walking around wearing pentacles and talking about Wicca at lunch and in maritime museums made me feel good; in general I've only met avowed Wiccans before in metaphysical stores or online, and while I've not encountered anti-pagan prejudice in my own neighborhood I suspect it's because of an incorrect assumption that there aren't any, because that prejudice certainly exists in much of the country. The New England Pirate Museum is set up much like the witch recreations and somehow (especially after Pirates of the Caribbean, both the ride and the movie) it seems more appropriate to see colorful dioramas of pirates. While there are a handful of artifacts from ships that sank locally, most of the fun of this tour is hearing the tour guide describe the exploits and captures of local pirates and to walk through the replica ship and "pirate cave" with fake bats and skeletons. The kids enjoyed it a lot.

For me, unsurprisingly perhaps, the highlights of Salem were literary and seafaring -- the Hawthorne houses and the wharf. Though the Friendship, the only three-masted ship permanently docking in Salem, had sailed a few days ago to the Cape, we saw the Fame, a replica of a War of 1812 privateer partially owned by Hawthorne's family. We also shopped in the National Park Service's West India Goods Store, where my younger son bought a bosun's whistle which we spent the afternoon rethinking as it was blown in our ears. I suppose I'll have to see the terrible Demi Moore film of The Scarlet Letter sometime...partly to see if it's as bad as everyone says it is, and partly to see Gary Oldman.

This is my fannish geek day -- we are seeing the Lord of the Rings exhibit in the morning and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the IMAX in the afternoon. The theater is in the aquarium, so we are going to see that too, as well as the science museum. I shall attempt to keep the squee under control!
Tags: new england 04

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