Eve Brackenbury

Poetry, Books, Writing

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1816-1819

I wrote this poem after being invited to participate in a Jewish Poetry Reading. I had hoped to write about a discovered Jewish familial connection. Or, I had hoped I might capture the imagery of Jewish art or possessions, or play with a bit of Yiddish. I searched and researched, yet nothing came to fruition. My mother often spoke with a bit of east-coast Yiddish, enjoyed a sip of Mogen David during holidays, and spoke fondly of her favorite Jewish celebrities. A Jewish friend explained it to me, “Everyone is a bit Jewish in Newark.”

I then hoped to discover if there was anything to the rumors that my grandfather was Jewish but changed his identity when he emigrated from Germany. My maiden name, “Brunner,” both German and Jewish (Ashkenazic), is a topographic name for someone who lived beside a spring or well, Middle High German brun(ne) ‘spring’, or habitational name for someone from a place named with this word. But I could find nothing conclusive.

Finally, with the event fast approaching, I realized this event has nothing to do with me. I asked myself what people might want to hear from me, and I realized I’m best known for much of my historical poetry. This poem is speculative history. Like many of my poems, it is brief, and only hints at many historical events that all play a part in the story of a young Jewish man from Germany. Instead of “info-dumping” into the poem, I have included endnotes for anyone interested in learning more.   I have a poem titled “1820” about a government expedition up the Missouri River. It was prompted by a historic cemetery marker. On the marker are a couple of very sounding Jewish names. I’ve not yet discovered their stories, but I speculated that it was possible a Jewish immigrant from a troubled Germany could have found his way to the far western frontier of early 1800’s America. This poem is the “prequel” to 1820.

 

1816-1819

In 1816, the year without a summer,

a year after Napoleon’s promises

turned just as cold and fruitless,

a year when a great hunger gripped Germany,

he’d become a man.

 

It had been just two years since

a woman named Mary

travelled through his town along the River Rhine

and stopped just outside Frankenstein Castle.

 

“A second son. No wife. No profession.

This is no place for a young Jew,” his Papa told him.

“Take your dreams to America.”

 

In 1818, adopting an American frontier faith,

he joined a rifle regiment. Nights along the river’s

course, he told of how he once kissed a girl

who created a golem.

 

His lieutenant asked if he feared

women who make monsters.

“My Mama told me I would forget her, “he answered.

“I have nothing to fear but the cold.

 

That winter of 1819, he knew nothing of the pitchforks

brandished, torches inflamed. “Hep Hep!” they cried.

Rioting. Looting. Monster hunting.

 

 

[i] The year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer (also the Poverty Year, the Summer that Never Was, Year There Was No Summer, and Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death) because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years after the extreme weather events of 535–536), perhaps plus the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Philippines. The Earth had already been in a centuries-long period of global cooling that started in the 14th century. Known today as the Little Ice Age, it had already caused considerable agricultural distress in Europe. The Little Ice Age’s existing cooling was aggravated by the eruption of Tambora, which occurred during its concluding decades. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer, n.d.)

 
[ii] Napoleon Bonaparte first enacted emancipation for Jews in France and in neighboring countries he conquered during the Napoleonic Wars. In Italy, the Netherlands, and the German states, the Jews were emancipated and able to act as free men for the first time in those nations. After the British defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, a counter-revolution in many of these countries resulted in the restoration of discriminatory measures against Jews. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hep-Hep_riots, n.d.)

 
[iii] In 1814, prior to writing her famous novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley took a journey on the river Rhine. She spent a few hours in the town of Gernsheim, which is located about ten miles away from [Frankenstein] castle. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Shelley, n.d.)

 
[iv] A Jewish man who wanted to marry in Germany at this time had to purchase a registration certificate, known as a matrikel, proving he was in a “respectable” trade or profession. Matrikels, which could cost up to 1,000 gulden, were usually restricted to firstborn sons. As a result, most Jewish men were unable to legally marry. (http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/berlin/Jews_in_Germany.html, n.d.)

 
[v] The Hep-Hep riots from August to October 1819 were pogroms against Ashkenazi Jews, beginning in the Kingdom of Bavaria, during the period of Jewish emancipation in the German Confederation. The antisemitic communal violence began on August 2, 1819 in Würzburg and soon reached the outer regions of the German Confederation. Many Jews were killed and much Jewish property was destroyed. The riots took place in a period of heightened political and social tension, shortly following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the great famine of 1816-17. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hep-Hep_riots, n.d.)

1820

Grave Marker at Historic Fort Osage

New in 2017: Please read the prequel to this poem titled, “1816-1819.”

Published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems by Eve Brackenbury (2013). ISBN 9781630686024

1820 won 3rd place in the Kansas City Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 Sonnet contest.

1820
The thing that struck me about them dying
all those years ago wasn’t that they died,
but that their war-less deaths were belying
the hopes of widows and mothers who tried
to keep vigil for God’s guidance and peace.
An expedition of discovery
would end in a cold war, without release;
a failed venture seeking recovery.
Helplessness is just what it is—a curse,
even more so for the men who were there.
Mothers and wives were spared something far worse:
to nurse the sick as death refused to spare
those reeking of scurvy and wasting rot.
A military frontier claimed its lot.

Footnote: In the early 19th century, much of the work of the U.S. military was concerned with exploring and defending its western frontier. The Missouri Expedition, the first significant government sponsored trip up the Missouri River after Lewis and Clark, ended its trek in the fall of 1819, and the wilderness outpost at Camp Council Bluffs, also called Cantonment Missouri, was built. It was to become Fort Atkinson. That fateful winter brought a widespread affliction of scurvy, and nearly all of the soldiers were stricken with the disease. Close to 200 deaths occurred among officers and men of the Sixth U. S. Infantry Regiment and the First U.S. Rifle Regiment. In March of 1820, more than one hundred sick were sent south to Fort Osage in Sibley near present day Kansas City, Missouri to seek early vegetation and a greater chance of recovery. Today, visitors to the Historic Fort Osage will find a monument marker inside the Historic Sibley Cemetery with a list of forty-five men who died there from the 1820 scurvy outbreak. Viewing this marker was the inspiration behind this poem, and the inspiration for my research of this historical event for which very little has been written or archived. I am working on a historical novel based on The Missouri Expedition of 1818-1820.

Psalm 2016

 

Psalm 2016

~for David and Alan

 

A Black Star at autumn’s dusk,
a hymn at dawn, a mask.
A Starman Plays an Auld Lang drum
and laughs.

“Always” prays a bard,
and stays my rusty atlatl.
A Wandman’s aura burns.
A myth has past, a last ward cast.

 

This poem is my goodbye to two of my favorite boys, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. I love their work and the legacy they leave us. I used a favorite writing method: a challenge. This poem was written only using two vowels: A and U (and sometimes Y).

She’ll Get Her Kiss read by Hank Beukema

My poem, “She’ll Get Her Kiss” originally published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems (2013)

Updated and Revised specifically for this reading in 1st person. I love the whole Noir tone to this. Enjoy.

She’ll Get Her Kiss

I keep a bottle close to my breast

convinced of its salvation,

for each sunrise keeps a torturous longing alive.

I won’t give up on my promise of one more kiss

this side of heaven.

The brightness of morning alerts me

to the lateness of my duties.

My blurred gaze turns to hellish things;

I am entrenched with death.

I can still feel the drink in my blood,

mixing a bold acceptance with my paralyzing fears.

I will not surrender;

I will not go gentle into that good night.

Damn her poetry.

I am bound to return to her at the end of my tour,

my passage secured by hell.

Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue

Image

Published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems by Eve Brackenbury. (Revised Edition, 2014) 

ISBN 978-1-63068-602-4

Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue

My Dearest Mother, forgive me,
     for today I stood before God
and swore loyalty to mine enemy.
My sons and husband are dead,
and I am asked to bury my hatred.
I have done so and I have begged
     that I might return home to you.
 
Forgive me, Mother,

     my heart has turned cold and Blue.
What was not burned has been picked at
by packs of wild dogs. Full of mange,

full of rage and madness, they took over

looting  after Ewing’s dogs left.
And now these dreaded dogs,
     they plunder our fields for bones.
 
The murderous rage of those bent on abolishing
     all we had has taken all from me!

I returned to what has been called a vast cemetery.
It seems to me a generous assessment,
for even our graves were turned out.
Snow and ash cover what few stones remain,
     a Grey reminder.
And in that respect, a vast cemetery indeed.
 
Mother, I beg for your forgiveness,
     for I buried your Bible next to your bones,
thinking you might keep it safe.
And the silver comb Father brought back
from the old country to give to his bride.
     I knew not what else to do;
we were given only a fortnight to flee.
We have been punished for our honor,
     most severely and without mercy.
 
Mother, forgive me if you can find it in your heart,
     for I have chosen to marry a Union man.
He carries a Bible close to his breast
and has offered absolution for my sins.
His very dog he pledged to me for protection.
     A silver comb, his bridal gift to me.
 

General Order No. 11:

This poem is about a fictional woman who suffered during a very real and very devastating consequence of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Ewing, commander of the District of the Border issued the infamous General Order No. 11 on August 25th, 1863. It was in direct response to the raid on Lawrence on August 21st, 1863. In the order, Ewing banished the citizens from in the border counties—Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties, Missouri . It was assumed the citizens, most likely so, in these counties gave support to the guerrillas. Those who swore allegiance to the Union were exempt from the order. Yet, loyal or disloyal, the citizenry suffered under a ruthless execution of revenge. Buildings and homes were burned, livestock and possessions were taken, people were murdered even while trying to evacuate and follow the order. Many buried what possessions they couldn’t take with them and later returned to find them dug up and burned. The land was completely desecrated. The area became a wasteland. It is estimated that 25,000 people were displaced.  In January of 1864, those who swore loyalty to the Union were allowed to return. Two years later, a minister named George Miller returned to the area and noted, “For miles and miles we saw nothing but lone chimneys. It seemed like a vast cemetery — not a living thing to break the silence … Man no longer existed here.”

About The painting: Text taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Order_No._11_%281863%29

American artist George Caleb Bingham, who was staunchly pro-Union, called Order No. 11 an “act of imbecility” and wrote letters protesting it. Bingham wrote to Gen. Ewing, “If you execute this order, I shall make you infamous with pen and brush,” and in 1868 created his famous painting reflecting the consequences of Ewing’s harsh edict (see above). Former guerrilla Frank James, a participant in the Lawrence, Kansas raid, is said to have commented: “This is a picture that talks.”

Bingham, who was in Kansas City at the time, described the events:

It is well-known that men were shot down in the very act of obeying the order, and their wagons and effects seized by their murderers. Large trains of wagons, extending over the prairies for miles in length, and moving Kansasward, were freighted with every description of household furniture and wearing apparel belonging to the exiled inhabitants. Dense columns of smoke arising in every direction marked the conflagrations of dwellings, many of the evidences of which are yet to be seen in the remains of seared and blackened chimneys, standing as melancholy monuments of a ruthless military despotism which spared neither age, sex, character, nor condition. There was neither aid nor protection afforded to the banished inhabitants by the heartless authority which expelled them from their rightful possessions. They crowded by hundreds upon the banks of the Missouri River, and were indebted to the charity of benevolent steamboat conductors for transportation to places of safety where friendly aid could be extended to them without danger to those who ventured to contribute it. 

Witness

Rally for Daisy

Witness

Your hand clenched her arm
and exposed your desperation.
You held her from behind;
you closed your eyes and bowed your head.
You brought her here
to this small town where girls are raped,
where justice is impotent.

A friend from high school was photographed with her daughter in the Kansas City Star recently. They attended the Justice for Daisy Rally – a rally for victims of sexual abuse in Maryville, Missouri last month. Cortney Cooper was praying over her daughter…that she would never know such pain.

 http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/22/4570404/rally-for-justice-in-maryville.html

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