Philadelphia, 1793: So Much Left Unsaid, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

I want to say, Dear Mother, do not fret
I am gone, and all is set,
you think, I know, our Father’s will and rule–
but, oh I wish I lived to see my babies go to school!
And all the sisters out at play—
instead of here. The way

(my body disappeared
I seem to float without it.)

I remember now, how yellow turned my skin and eyes,
and mournful were my sighs and cries
from aching head–
and then overspread
the blackest bile from within my bowels
over all the sheets and towels. . .

and yet you tended me
till I ceased to be


I no longer feel the pain.
But Mother, I wish I remained.

For the NaPoWriMo prompt today to “write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead” and for the dVerse prompt where Grace asks us to write about the body. I wasn’t going to do either prompt, but then this came to me. It’s based on letters I read that were written during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Many fled the city, but over 5,000 people died. The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, so the epidemic subsided once the weather cooled. I remember sitting in the Quaker Archives at Haverford College reading one letter and nearly bursting into tears.

50 thoughts on “Philadelphia, 1793: So Much Left Unsaid, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

  1. This is so touching Merril. I admire how you gave it just the right emotional tone and voice. I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been for the mother and family left behind.

  2. This is incredibly moving, Merril! You have depicted the ache, the tragedy in a way that is both sensitive and real. I confess I became a bit teary-eyed near the end. 💝

  3. You have captured the 18th century voice so perfectly in your poem, at first I thought it was from that time period. When I finished it, I was reminded that several of my ancestors from Hampton, NH died in various yellow fever outbreaks. Such a haunting evocation of illness and death suffered by so, so many before the era of modern medicine.

  4. Another reader who got teary-eyed with this poem 😉 Beautifully done, Merril, and, as Liz noted, you capture that 18th-century manner of speaking so well. And still, it’s a poem that will resonate regardless of the century.

  5. This is wonderfully done, Merril. It went right to the heart because any mother would do that for her child, whether she herself is a mother or not.

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