The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922

for Laura

The island, you mustn’t say, had only rocks and scrub pine;
Was on a blue, bright day like a blemish in this landscape.
And Charlotte who is frail and the youngest of us collects
Sticks and branches to start our fires, cries as they burn
Because they resemble most what she has lost
Or has little of: long fingers, her toes,
And a left arm gone past the elbow, soon clear to her shoulder.
She has the mouth of sea perch. Five of our sisters wear
Green hoods. You are touched by all of this, but not by us.
To be touched by us, to be kissed! Sometimes
We see couples rowing in the distance in yellow coats.

Sometimes they fish with handlines; we offend
Everyone who is offended most
And by everything and everyone. The five goats love us, though,
And live in our dark houses. When they are
Full with milk they climb the steps and beg that
They be milked. Their teats brush the steps and leave thick
Yellow trails of fresh milk. We are all females here.
Even the ghosts. We must wash, of course, in salt water,
But it smarts or maybe even hurts us. Often with a rope
Around her waist Anne is lowered entirely into the water.
She splashes around and screams in pain. Her screams
Sometimes carry clear to the beaches on the Cape.

For us I say so often. For us we say. For us! We are
Human and not individual, we hold everything in common.
We are individual, you could pick us out in a crowd.
You did. This island is not our prison. We are not kept
In; not even by our skin.

Once Anne said she would love to be a Negro or a trout.

We live without you. Father, I don’t know why I have written
You all this; but be proud for I am living, and yet each day
I am less and less your flesh. Someday, eventually, you
Should only think of me as being a lightning bug on the lawn,
Or the Negro fishing at the pond, or the fat trout he wraps
In leaves that he is showing to someone. I’ll be

Most everything for you. And I’ll be gone.

Norman Dubie, “The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org
Source: The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)