The Lamentation of the Gallows Bride

“One day a malefactor was to be executed on a gallows; but with a condition that if any woman, having nothing on but her shift, married the man under the gallows, his life was to be saved. This extraordinary privilege was claimed; a woman presented herself; and the marriage ceremony was performed.”

~The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself, pg. 203-4


I know not his crime.

The ones around me do not say.

I imagine it is as unspeakable as his eyelids.

I could not let him hang.

Searching eyes and sweat, noose on neck.

Silence and creaking oak, cruel laughter and stumble up the stairs,

head already hung. Does he weep?

Shame and the gloved devil at his back,

hands bound and twisted. Does he pray?

They call me a good woman in the market.

I sell potatoes and leeks. I can call sows, know how to pluck a chicken.

I dust my father’s house, wash his woolens more than once.

My skirts are as clean as I can keep them.

I do not know what they will call me now.

Jonathan came calling, had not an ounce of shame;

Joseph was a charmer, and never was to blame.

Douglas could not count nor keep a house,

but handsome all the same. But this man, eyelids shaking—

I do not know his name.

I once snapped a chicken’s neck too slowly to spare it pain.

Their eyelids always flutter soft. I kiss their beaks when I am done. My father taught me so.

I give the half-rotten leeks to the women who ask for them when the market is done.

They make good soup with it. This is only another mercy I must.

Bonnet, hairpins, ribbon, shawl and sheath.

Hold my basket. Here are leeks.

Petticoat and stockings, shoes, crinoline and corset;

the little care that’s left, thin cotton and bared breast.

My skirts are clean, but none knew till now.

Mud and cold, grit and dung, the light drizzle that spurts and dies.

His eyes tell me mine are a forgiveness,

and mercy is granted by the muse with no more mystery.

Every hair on my arms bore a dewdrop.

I was married in pearls I could not keep.

I close my eyelids.

Let him be good. Let him be kind. Let him be mine.

I imagine he will tell the story years later, say,

This was in the spring of 1784 in the City of New York,

that the lady of the leeks had mercy and now is mine.

If it was folly, she did not know it then,

and I keep the folly from her now.

© 2015 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.

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