On the Hawthorne Road: A Study
“Stand back, my Lord, and let the coffin pass,”
declaims the young Nathaniel on a day over-thick
with lake mist and the thaw from winter’s more
ominous tales. Like that of Samuel Tarbox
and his wife, who froze in a drift by their own
front door, the food for their brood hefted in a block
into a straining gust of hemlock,
Mrs. Sam’s spent, frantic shawl
braced across the outcrop of her
husband’s shoulder blades,
driving up through the massy snow
in brittle black sticks of fringe.
The eldest from the huddle of five children
blew and blew a horn, a bone-thin wail needling inside
the wail of the bony winds. Heeded, the children
were scraped like candle wax from their family hearth
and flung this way and that –
near-sheer flakes of malleable shivers —
re-shaped and rekindled in the arms
of morose and kindly strangers.
Nathaniel’s Uncle Richard took
the famished toddler, Betsy,
and Aunt Sue made sure
that springtime rose again.
Nathaniel roams the Dingley Brook
to Thomas Pond and sites along the sunrise to the misty
hint of Rattlesnake Mountain. His fowling piece
is more a loaded prop than any sort of tool, something
picturesque to heft, and manly to regard – a memento
from his sea-claimed father, held in trust by Uncle Richard
and provided when the thicker woods of Maine made
weaponry essential. There was still a lurking slink of
panthers peering from the brake
where the brookies clustered in a cove at Panther Pond
and rattlers denning in the crags he liked to hail and climb.
Primeval though the region was, there was a road
that sliced up Quaker Ridge where the new-built meeting house
took clear and reverent stock
of the distant mountains of New Hampshire.
The Hathornes, distant mountains of his past,
would not have wished godspeed to Quaker neighbors
with any hint of grace or sufferance.
The ancient unmapped woods
could never have been big enough
for peaceful coexistence
and the Quakers would have needs been
shunned, reviled, and rousted.
He could almost hear the rustling
grave clothes of his fathers
in the soughing of the winds
and sense their wizened scorn
in the eye-like chinks of Pulpit Rock
as he swapped his pocket knife
with young Rob Cooke, his comrade
and a Quaker.
And the home that Uncle Richard built
with all his wealth and whimsy,
dragging glass from Belgium on a dray
through rutted staging roads
and a clock of rich mahogany, elegant and gilded,
chiming the long tale of its survival through the parlor
every hour. The wall paper from England, the hewn pumpkin pine,
the rays of the iron sun embedded in an arching window,
welcoming the light above the door.
And a library with Shakespeare and with Sydney,
Illyria and Arcadia in the wilds of Raymondtown,
the words illumined by the fir fire crackling
scented shadows through the gloom, poems,
more than just medicinal or diverting,
flung like prayers
to the stilly miles of thick black ash and pine.
Uncle Richard takes pains to duplicate the stately
hip-roofed lines of his own unlikely dwelling
when building his sister’s home
on a rise nearby his own. He knows this is a place
where Turkey rugs and silver candelabra
can lend an air of civilized proportion
but not define the limits of a mind,
where wildness stirs and meets its howling match
in children, even girls, and this incandescent boy
who roam and dream unchecked.
Nathaniel and his sisters scrabble still
for huckleberries that cluster in shrubs amidst
aged white pine that may have even been mature
when Hawthorne was a boy.
I see them through the misted morning chill,
chasing along the boulders of Sebago’s eastern shore,
Louisa slipping once and clutching her brother’s steadying
hand, and Ebe, the eldest, watching the woods with
a preternatural concentration as if charging the air forever
with her own fleet, unbridled girlhood.
Kate Falvey’s work has been widely published in an eclectic array of journals and anthologies. The Language of Little Girls, her first full-length collection, was published in summer 2016 by David Robert Books. She also has published two chapbooks. She edits the 2 Bridges Review, published through City Tech/CUNY, where she teaches, and is on the board of the Bellevue Literary Review.