Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Engraved


Father, soone after yov goe for Englande, we came hither. Onlie misarie  and  warretow yeare.  Above halfe deade ere tow yeere  moore from sickenes.....

                                                                       Eleanore Dare, 1591, The Roanoake Colony

Gold leaves of  the sassafras

shudder along with the shoulders

of a woman recording her name

and plight in stone.


Her hair tendrilled loose

as if to patch, lessen the tear

of a blouse ripped on burrs

while heading toward the river.


The wind breathes cool, smelling of that sweet plant

as her hands crudely carve

a cross and clues into large quartzite. 

There's barely enough time

to finish. And like those other things:


unhung herbs, damp kindling --grief

for a lost husband and child,

they must be left. Something shines

in the distance  She turns around


reaching for a shawl. Her shadow

widens across the rock

like floodwater leaving

its hopelessness in the letters. Its darkness


felt by passing birds. Their  bleak  cry

fallen through clouds

shattering the gray lull; and with them

draped in tufted wool, she takes flight -- vanishing

into the south.


Translation of epigram ( in 16th C. English)

Father, soon after you went to England, we came here. Only misery and a war torn year. About half are dead for two years or more from sickness...

Background notes:

In 1587, one of the first, experimental colonies in the New World inhabited the wild island of Roanoke off the coast of North Carolina. They came with hopes of establishing a productive settlement on The American Coast with a certain amount of autonomy and goals of achieving both personal and mercantile success. However, they were confronted with not only harsh climate factors but disease, hostile Native Americans, and rapidly dwindling supplies. Out of desperation, the governor of the colony, John White, decided to sail back to England and petition his sponsors for more supplies and money. In his absence, the colony began to suffer a number of misfortunes. On the brink of starvation and impending Indian attacks,  something had to be done. And that became the mystery. When Governor White returned to Roanoke after two years, he found the settlement completely dismantled with no trace of anyone or any building foundations. He set out to find his people and came across a series of carved stones along the woodland trail. And these were supposedly carved as clues by his own daughter , Eleanor White Dare, who had been married to another colonist and had given birth to a girl, the first white child to be born of English descent in America. ( According to some  accounts -- including her own on the stone), her husband was slain by Indians and her child lost or  possibly slain as well). The first stone had the longest message and yet briefly described what occurred  and why they left.. The rest of the stones (47 in all with various short clues as to the direction of their whereabouts) were deemed fraudulent by scientists and historians. Yet, the mystery of why and how Eleanor Dare carved these stones lingers. And even greater, the disappearance of an entire colony.

It should also be noted that "sassafras" grew rampantly in the Carolina woods and surrounding territories. It was one of the most coveted plants of the new world -- known for its medicinal properties along with sweet taste and fragrance.

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