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Poems

a letter writ on apple vellum

I.

How familiar you deign to speak of my lord!
Said the handmaid to the other women,
these women so bold, to say any word,
that tickled their fancy overbrimmin’,
with supposing that her lord, loved them too.
Ah, said they, And why should we not speak so bold?
for it seems that thy lover also loves us,
his riches to share, with assurance we’re told,
an inheritance from him to freely discuss…
And all that thy lover promised is true.

But pray tell, the handmaid pleads, How you are come,
to think my good lord has promised you all,
part with his substance, inheritance in sum,
causing this visit, heeding what you deem his call,
with fancy that his love extends to you?
Why lady, the women thus replied, This letter
we received doth tell the twofold tale,
upon reading, we found our station better,
and thought to call on him before his offer’s stale,
its content we assuredly presumed thou knew.

The letter then, allow me to peruse,
if perchance it hath been written of his hand,
so I may see why now you freely choose,
to declare his love for all daughters of the land.
Upon perusal, the handmaid’s face turned blue.
Why this, she confessed, Is a note addressed to me,
written when he first declared his love,
his heart laid bare, affections shared so free,
see how he hath called me here his only dove?
How this had come into your hands, I find no clue.

Why, writ to thee alone? The women roared,
We can’t conceive of such a selfish thought!
This lately sent us of his courier’s accord,
as if some scheme was by our hearts begot!
And so the ire of the many women grew.
Our handmaid heaved a sigh, and drooped in frame.
She scarce outspoken boldness could abide.
And overwhelmed was she with undue shame,
to think her lover’s letter they aspied,
supposing that her lover sought their hearts to woo.

She left the women at the cedar door,
and slowly trode the halls of her abode.
Their letter in her hand. She walked the purple floor,
and met the secret chamber, whence curtains flowed,
then opened up a drawer she only knew.
Reverently, her hand reached in the recess,
and grasped a letter writ on apple vellum.
The letter to her lips she sweetly press.
Many doubtful thoughts. She sought to quell them.
Comparing all the lines betwixt the two.

Astonishment to her upon compare!
To cedar door she rushed again with haste.
To news she has discovered, quick to share.
Informing those bold women their attempt was waste.
(Which news when heard, what blazing rage they spew)
See here, said she, My lovers onely draft,
’tis tried and true, on apple vellum wrought-!
At which confession, the emboldened women laughed,
and touted high the forgeries they brought.
Her statement “they were vain” they did eschew.

On apple vellum! ‘Tis a funny claim,
that thou would bring before our learn’ed ear.
His seal on our letters. The marking of his name.
Thou claimest that the signature is queer.
Sore jealous thou art we should claim him too?
Our letters are as genuine as thine.
Our hopes we will not let thee now dissuade,
nor shall we feign his offers to decline,
though thou with jealous claims would soon persuade,
with letter thou conveniently hath drew.

Such accusations caused our handmaid dread.
She knew their claims were false, but what to speak?
How might she now convince them how those letters read,
were shameless counterfeits, and vain the hope they seek.
For these had no part with her, though their fancies flew.
They pressed upon her with a frenzied cry,
and forced their way into the cedar door.
They pushed her to the floor and there she lie,
watching as they pillaged all the house’s store.
She watched as helpless, not knowing what to do.

And all her lovely things they stole away.
All things her lord had given her as gift.
A word she could not speak, nor cause relay,
for when she tried, the officers of Babel biffed
her lip; with FORCE all arguments they slew.
For the gates of Babel, whence her house was near,
had glanced the documents the women showed.
They thought those women’s documents were clear,
and the handmaid’s own letter to be overrode.
Each batter of her person, and their boldness grew.

But worse than all the pillage of her house.
The women who laid claim to share her carriage,
not sated with encroachment, on her rights as spouse,
now brought before the law: question of her marriage.
A formal inquisition did ensue.
Her vellum laid beside, those letters claiming right.
Those women filled the courthouse without shame
(Malevolent in heat. Devoid of godly light).
The counsel to decide, who bore the good lord’s name.
Intention of the letter to construe.

II.

The content of each copy to be tried,
and determined who the writer had addressed.
Should its promise to all claimants be applied,
and was each lawsuit honestly confessed?
The letters once again did meet review.
The courthouse overrun by daughters of the land,
(amid them sat the handmaid, feeling very low)
Each of them in turn, took the witness stand,
their case to plead, and evidence to show.
With every declaration tensions grew.

The letters are the same, said a dame with zeal,
Though language differs slight, the meaning is not changed,
besides the general content, note the good man’s seal,
and how his love persists, though he doth be estranged.
Good sirs, cannot you find our letters also true?
And see, another spake, How he doth leave his crown,
to one and any who would dare desire,
how clearly his approval he laid down,
and those who choose to heed him, wealth acquire.
With such permission, shall we not pursue?

But SHE — one said (an accusation laced with scorn),
Is loathe to part the purse, those goods to share,
She’d hoard them for herself. So, she doth warn
us leave our due, with claim she only is the heir.
Though how could such a selfish claim be true?
The clerk so noted, while others wove fine speech.
Opinions bandied ’bout, on what the letter meant.
In spite of disagreements, they do each,
search out the proper meaning and intent,
securing that lord’s wealth both old and new.

To the stand, Oh courier! who delivered us,
the notes for which this stir has been employed.
The time has come, thy witness to discuss,
perchance this case… to render null and void.
Oh courier to the stand. Now present thy clue.
And swearing by God’s throne he does not lie,
The letters were indeed, by the master writ.
To charge our handmaid falsely, he’s not shy.
He urged the court to prosecute, and not acquit.
Citing lack of kindness, and charity untrue.

Now, the court calls the handmaid to inquire,
In face of such witness, was she yet disagreed?
Besides, could so many confederates conspire,
with single accord, so big a lie to plead?
She still insists her lord’s fidelity she knew.
The court reviewed the letters yet again.
Considered all the claims and weighed reports.
On the matter, quite undecided, WHEN
a lady, most fair, storms into the courts.
All gaped in awe, to see what she might do.

Heed now, she said, in calming voice of silver-strain,
I would a hidden falsehood now reveal.
This “lady” who declares we seek our right in vain,
a vice hath long endeavored to conceal.
On such indignity, my soul doth stew!
Before the court this paper I present
(And note the offbeat marking of the print),
her claim of wedlock to that lord, I sore resent,
For see! her marriage license… freshly mint-!
The vellum, I accuse… of being phony, too.

The paper caused an uproar through the crowd,
Of all who did attend this heated case.
That it be forgery, no soul allowed,
nor did they doubt the earnest in the fair one’s face.
The courthouse filled with voices in a boo.
New charges heaped, decried the handmaid’s letter.
Examined now with cursings. Mocked to scorn.
With canine scent of blood they judged the fetter,
of that condemning vellum from their conscience torn.
Kangaroo court… now become a blind man’s zoo.

Reproach lay heavy on the handmaid’s heart.
She durst not speak a word of yay or nay.
But wished in weariness she might depart.
No strength to hear what they might further say.
For with each accusation, their position grew.
The judge’s gavel bid the hall to silence.
Anticipation high, to hear his final thought.
The jury’s mind made up, intent on violence.
Allegiance’d to the fair one… long since bought.
The handmaid’s fate, rested on, things that were untrue.

It’s evident, the judge declared with weight,
The paper from the fair one does not lie.
Now, sentence on the handmaid, plainly state.
The verdict, guilty! was the court’s reply.
In triumph, every hat, to the ceiling flew.
What shall be done to that handmaid whose claim,
offends every ear and annoys every mind,
this “so-called bearer” of that vaunted name,
Without clear defense, and perspective so blind?
The fate of the handmaid… Oh! fair one, please shew-!

If it pleases the courts of Babel, I pray,
that the malefactor be cast to the street,
where all of the women who were wronged shall play
her executioner. Sentence complete.
The court concedes it a good thing to do.
The apple vellum, in great rage torn apart,
and burnt to ashes before the maid’s eye.
This merciless deed that breaks her poor heart…
The violent mob with a vengeance did hie,
to the cobblestone street. And the handmaid they slew.

But when the husbandmen saw the sonne, they said among themselues, This is the heire, come, let vs kill him, and let vs sease on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the Vineyard, and slew him.

(Matthew 21:38-39, Holy Bible 1611)


*Thanks to my dad for helping smooth a few rough lines…