Poem by Raymond Luczak
after Fanny Hooe, 1827–1882
Up north the wind was your best friend,
and he never stayed around for long,
certainly never on Keweenaw Peninsula.
He whispered all sorts of things
you knew you shouldn’t be thinking,
but there you listened, hesitating,
knowing how your sister Richardette
had warned you about lonely soldiers
daring to look into your eyes.
Those days and nights of ache
had been sticky like spring mud
that grazed the hem of your dress
when you bent down to ladle up
a cup of water from the lake.
Water wasn’t enough to slake your thirst.
No one knew how much fate you’d drink,
but at seventeen, you’d been long used
to fantasies of social balls and gossip
twittering behind fluttering fans.
Oh, how no one knew. You were tired
of the loneliness swirling icy drafts
around the fingertip of Keweenaw,
stiffer than your shoulders from butter churning.
You knew you weren’t cut out for this life.
So when that stranger touched your hand,
his eyes full of what didn’t need translation,
you knew never to say another word.
Your body was completely on fire.
You couldn’t believe how a kiss could
shudder, exploding spasm after another.
You were soaking wet! Birds snickered
as you took off your bonnet and shook your hair
loose. The wind giggled at you.
Most of this is fiction. No one may ever know,
but I’ll always believe in the truth of my lies.
No one knows how those stories about you
started, probably not long after you’d gone.
Someone must’ve forgotten that you’d left
after a year. You’d gone back to Virginia
and waited another four years to marry.
Whoever thought you’d left behind
your bonnet had a masterstroke moment.
He must’ve known his neighbors would suspect
a redface man preying upon you,
or maybe wonder if you’d crossed the road
over to the choppy waves of Lake Superior
into the undersea world of suicides
whose dark blood turned into algae
that never came clean off the rocks
no matter how many times the waves scrubbed
them on the hottest summer day. He had to know
how dreary and long their lives were:
they would whisper and fabricate
questions best unasked in front of children
who were too young to understand
the mysterious workings between thighs,
what went on between men and women.
In the wrong hands of history,
fabrication becomes truth.
Facts say that you visited Fort Wilkins
at the northernmost tip of Keweenaw Peninsula
during its first occupation. Your older sister
was married to First Lt. Daniel Ruggles,
who, twenty years later, would be the last Confederate
that John Wilkes Booth saw right before he died.
Facts say that you lived at Fort Wilkins
for only one year before you married Chester B. White
four years later and birthed three children.
He died at the Benicia Barracks near San Francisco.
You applied for a widow’s pension but were denied.
Facts say that you lobbied for the next nine years
until Congress awarded you a monthly pension of $20.
By then you’d moved back to Fredericksburg, Virginia.
You died of cancer fifteen years later.
Fort Wilkins has a copy of your death certificate,
the final inoculation against those stories.
Facts say that in 1844, officers of Fort Wilkins
named all of the nearby inland lakes after their wives:
Lake Manganese used to be Lake Martha,
and Lake North used to be Lake Lily.
But no one’s changed the name of Lake Fanny Hooe,
the largest lake next to the fort. What an honor.
Yet facts do not record whether you ached for marriage,
or how you must’ve withstood their loneliness.
When I was ten, I camped off the shore
of the lake where you allegedly vanished.
Inside Fort Wilkins’ main building,
my teacher and her husband smiled
at each other as I wandered
among the counter of plaques
detailing the various outcomes
you might’ve suffered. No one knew then.
Afterward, I trailed behind my teacher,
a tentative fawn with his doe,
through the mottle of birch
flickering shards of white bouncing
off the lake’s trampoline.
I wondered if she, too, would disappear.
I don’t remember falling asleep in the tent,
but the shock of finding her still there,
scenting a waft of coffee off a small campfire,
was a relief. As it turned out,
I was the one who would disappear.
Who started all these stories about you,
and why? You hadn’t sneaked out at night.
Some thought you had a secret lover and eloped.
Others thought you drowned in your lake.
A few thought a bear mauled you to pieces.
I still remember all these imaginary outcomes
as I imagine my own years later.
Fort Wilkins is now a state park
where tourists idle among the buildings.
Snapping pictures with digital cameras
has become a thoughtless art,
a far journey’s call from the days
when you had to sit still for years
trying not to blink at the cataracted lens,
searing a steely-eyed impatience
onto the daguerreotype plate.
But you weren’t important enough to have
your picture saved for eternity.
Please let me call your name
so you can disappear again, this time for real,
leaving your bonnet in my hands
with that blinding shimmer of sun
hiding your shadow blending
into the woods, never to be called back
except on the peripheral vision
of my memory. I am
still waiting, standing guard right here
on these shores where I’ve never left.
The 2016 Charter Oak Award
SECOND PLACE WINNER
We are pleased to announce the second place winner for the 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on historical topics. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final. This piece can be found in the print journal, Footnote #2: A Literary Journal of History.
RAYMOND LUCZAK is the author and editor of 18 books. Titles include: The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and How to Kill Poetry. His debut novel, Men with Their Hands, won first place in the Project: QueerLit Contest 2006. His work has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. He is the editor of Jonathan: A Queer Fiction Journal and is currently rewriting his play, I Never Slept with Helen Keller to be presented as a staged reading by New York Deaf Theatre in March 2016. A playwright and filmmaker, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and online at raymondluczak.com.
Originally published on 2/17/16.