4. Rare School Bell, Long Walnut Handle
by Kelley White
finely turned, exceptional patina, turned
and flared brass bell with iron clapper,
Canterbury, NH, C. 1850, 28” h $2100
The ledger tells how I came to be here.
A man, my father, called Charles Thomas,
though it may have been Thompson,
or Thomson, or Tomas, (this is Eldress
Cora’s hand, surely, recording, but the names
are blurred and dimmed with ninety
years) and five children, four boys, one
‘infant girl,’ came to the North Family
in November in the year I may have turned
two, 1879. The sisters gave me May 1st
as a birthday for it is a pleasant day
to picnic beside one of our little brooks
or bring short chairs into the orchard.
I have a picture of that here in my box.
A birthday. Perhaps mine. 1885. But three
girls wear flower crowns. Perhaps our
Elders gave all the orphans May Day
to begin new lives. But I am not an orphan.
My father and brothers may still be living.
Though I admit it is unlikely. They stayed
‘winter Shakers’ three years, leaving
to look for work, when landwork
began each spring and returning ragged
each fall. I do not know what happened
to my mother. There may have been
yellow fever. Perhaps another child and both
lost in the birthing. That was common. We
who live without the fury of begetting and bearing
live long lives.
From TWO BIRDS IN FLAME, Beech River Books, 2010
PHOTO: Shaker village, Canterbury, New Hampshire. Photo by Pixabay, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poems in TWO BIRDS IN FLAME began with items related to the Shakers that I found were for sale by auction in New Hampshire when I was looking for information about a woman who served as beekeeper there—I typed in “beekeeper Canterbury” and up came a picture of her gloves! The images truly seemed to speak to me. I felt as if I was (as the Shaker might have said) “receiving’ their voices.” I was fortunate to receive a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts grant, ironically just as I was leaving Philadelphia to return to my native New Hampshire, which helped support completion of the series of poems that became TWO BIRDS. . . I was extremely honored and grateful that poems from the book (as well as its cover by artist Dawn Marion) were included in two exhibits (2014 & 2015) titled, “Village Rising, Contemporary Responses to Shaker Traditions,” at the museum site, paired with historic Shaker items. A decade later I’ve somewhat unexpectedly returned to Philadelphia. I dearly wish I could return to that quiet New Hampshire village during these difficult days and look across the millponds toward the early changing autumn trees. The Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire remains one of my favorite places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.
PHOTO: The author with granddaughter Evelyn.