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Poetry

Boston, 1688

Four years before Salem would lose itself to hysteria, Mather knew
already the subtle workings of the devil, how an oak might shrivel
overnight, its leaves as brown and parched as hostler’s leather;

or a widow’s fields surrender to drought, her sons unable to save them,
while a neighbor’s thrived. Only by confession could the town itself
be saved, the wrath of God broken the way an impenitent neck snaps

upon the noose: no slow yielding but a sudden infusion of grace.
Jonathan Edwards would offer it to the generation of Mather’s son’s sons,
salvation necessary as the smallpox inoculation that took that preacher’s life

fifty years after Mather learned of the procedure from his slave, Onesimus,
named for the runaway on whose behalf the Apostle Paul wrote to Philemon.
Onesimus did not go with Mather to the home of John Goodwin, though
his name,

like his namesake’s, meant “useful.” Instead, he stayed behind, prepared
the room to which Mather would spirit Goodwin’s eldest daughter,
so moved was he by news of her affliction. The room Onesimus chose

was closest to the kitchen, that the girl might hear the dinner bell,
known by all to drive away demons. When her devil’s fever broke,
she brought that slave an apple plucked from Mather’s orchard

and polished on the hem of her shift. Seeing Goodwin’s children,
Mather declared a day of fasting and prayer, and always thereafter
spoke for those who sought out witchcraft and condemned it. His crypt

in Copp’s Hill holds forty bodies beside his own. Jonathan Edwards’ dying
is recorded in Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography along with the names
and sexes of his eleven children. When he fell away, his wife slipped

the ring from her finger and placed it in the pocket above his right breast.
“What shall I say?” she asked all of those assembled. “A holy and good God
has covered us with a dark cloud. But my God lives, and He has my heart.”


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