NEA Literature Fellowships

Jill McDonough

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(2005 - Poetry)

October 22, 1659: Mary Dyer
Boston, Massachusetts

She walked between two men. All three bound
to be hanged, the greatest joy and honor in
this world
for Quaker missionaries found
in Boston. First, she watched them hang the men,
hemp rope tossed over the limb of the elm. Then that noose
around her neck, her arms bound tight behind
her back, and Wilson’s handkerchief tied loose
over her face. Her homespun skirts were tied
around her ankles after she climbed the rungs
that they had climbed. A ladder, a hanging tree.
No eye can see, no ear can hear, no tongue
can speak
her willingness to die. They freed
her then, untied her, granted her reprieve:
she heard, but could not move, and would not leave.

This poem first appeared in Threepenny Review

Jill McDonough's poems have appeared in Poetry, Threepenny Review, and Slate. She is currently a fellow at The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Photo by Susan Mikula

Author's Statement

I'm an adjunct professor in the Boston area, teaching writing in prisons and several universities. Generally I teach five classes a semester, and three in the summer. When I learned about the fellowship, I emailed all of my bosses to ask if I could take off a semester and still be welcome back. The money made the time off possible, but I think the prestige of the award helped insure I didn't lose my jobs.

I've been working for five years on a book of sonnets, each about an execution in American history. They require a lot of research as well as writing time; I've been fitting the writing in between classes, and setting it aside to grade papers. With my time off, I was able to spend whole days in the library. Now I've completed my manuscript, Habeas Corpus, and submitted it to publishers and first book contests.