First Thanksgiving, Massachusetts, 1621

By Patricia Behrens

Open-mouthed cod we caught swimming in the bay
we salted for winter, turned sweet corn into corn meal,
chided the children for greed, kept watch on our neighbors.

It seemed easy enough to live that way the first summer
when our bones still held the chill of winter’s bite,
when we still remembered snow settling into bay waters

although hunger’s small ache and the meanness
of never-quite-enough hung over us like mist
that would not burn off. But as the days shortened

and leaves turned gold, we tired of it. We began to question
our restraint, to doubt if we could get through another winter
without at least a memory of being full and soft bellied.

Whispering began. The idea circulated like current—we would
hold a feast—raid what we had stored. If the winter stores ran low
wouldn’t God see us through? With faith, did we need thrift?

We harvested and pulled from our hoards pumpkins, leeks,
parsnips, chestnuts, peas. We cooked turkey, goose and venison,
caught cod, split quahogs from their shells. Goose fat dripped

into the fire and sent hickory smoke across the water.
Wampanoags came to eat with us. Clothes unloosed, women danced
for the men, until sun at the horizon burned the tree line red.

Afterwards, we buried the bones. November gusts scattered
the corn husks. Sated and unsure, we returned to our tasks.

 

Patricia Behrens grew up in Massachusetts, not far from where the early settlers are said to have celebrated the first Thanksgiving, and now lives in New York City. Her poetry has appeared in American Arts Quarterly, The Main Street Rag, Mom Egg Review, Perfume River Review, The Same, and elsewhere. She is also a lawyer and co-editor of Courthouses of the Second Circuit: Their Architecture, History, and Stories (Acanthus Press 2015).

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