The Murderers of Joshua Spooner, poems by Jack Grady
American-born Jack Grady is a founder member of the Ox Mountain Poets, based in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. His poetry has been widely published and has appeared either online or in print in Live Encounters Poetry and Writing; Crannóg; Poet Lore; A New Ulster; The Worcester Review; North West Words; Mauvaise Graine; Outburst Magazine; The Runt; The Galway Review; Algebra of Owls; The Irish Literary Times; Skylight 47; The Ekphrastic Review; Dodging the Rain; Mediterranean Poetry; and in the anthologies And Agamemnon Dead: An Anthology of Twenty First Century Irish Poetry; A New Ulster’s Voices for Peace; Poetry Anthology Centenary Voices April 2016; 21 Poems, 21 Reasons for Choosing Jeremy Corbyn; A New Ulster’s Poetry Day Ireland Anthology 2017; Poesia a Sul 1; 300K: Une anthologie de poésie sur l’espèce humaine; and Magnum Opus: An Anthology on Universal Oneness. He read in Morocco at the 3rd annual Festival International Poésie Marrakech, as the poet invited by its committee to represent Ireland, and he was invited to represent Ireland at the 3rd annual Poesia a Sul, in Olhão, Portugal. His poetry collection, Resurrection, was published by Lapwing Publications in October 2017 and was nominated for the T.S. Elliot Prize, and it can be ordered from their list of poets on the Lapwing Publications website or via their direct link to the collection, which is Jack Grady – Lapwing Store.
The following four poems, under the group title of The Murderers of Joshua Spooner, are from a work in progress, entitled Unconsecrated Ground, in which Bathshua (a.k.a. Bathsheba) Spooner and other individuals involved in the events surrounding the murder of her husband and the events that followed speak from their graves. Despite the fact that she was pregnant, she was hanged in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1778, for instigating the murder of her husband, Joshua Spooner. Those who actually committed the murder – Ezra Ross, James Buchanan, and William Brooks – were hanged with her.
Four other poems in this series were published under the title Unconsecrated Ground in volume 1 of the December 2018 issue of Live Encounters Poetry and Writing, and can be read here: Live Encounters Poetry & Writing December Volume One 2018
Billy Brooks Speaks from Unconsecrated Ground*
How, you may wonder, did my bones come to lie
under the weight of a city’s buildings and streets
which I as a ghost must roam?
The cause was a woman of high station, so she believed herself to be.
But she was no higher at heart than a Bristol bunter, a tart,
but with a shape to enflame the envy of every wench who beheld her.
O, how I wanted her, and she knew it. She knew
how to bait me well with a wicked wink and a smile,
a flutter of lashes, a flash of her eyes, and, over the brim
of her bodice, the cleft of her bosom flaunted for view
like a worm on a hook to this fish of a fool who would bite, if he could.
But turn me away she would any time she decided I was too brazen.
But she kept me on her leash, reined me back with a wink,
stoked my heat when I began to suspect I was little more
than an uncrowned piece in her game of draughts.
I know what she will say of me – that I was born to be murderer and thief,
and, though I may fancy myself a clever rascal, a lusty rogue,
she will tell you I was nothing but a blackguard and a lout.
And I suppose ’twas true, but you must hear my story from me
and not from a Jezebel who could call a main seven*
and nick it with eleven in her eyes alone
easier than Herodias’s daughter could nick her prize by dancing for a king.
And, just like that seductress was paid with the head of the Baptist on a plate,
Bathshua Spooner was paid with the murder of her husband by me.
And what did she grant me for my part in her scheme?
There was no dance for Billy Brooks, no nothing but drink,
a few rebel shillings in paper, not a guinea’s worth in gold,
clean breeches to replace the ones that dripped with her husband’s blood,
promises of a king’s treasure from a strongbox, and, so I believed,
the promise of her body for my pleasure, too.
But my reward was to be the end of all pleasure and drink:
for my treasure a carcanet of rope around my neck,
my kingly crown a cap pulled down over my nose and mouth,
and, for coronation as a murderer, the hangman’s
ladder and scaffold where I choked to death,
to be heaved into a hole in a field unblessed.
But, now, instead of wildflowers and weeds, what rises from that field
are structures of steel, brick, and concrete, whose weight grinds in this ground
the bones of an arm that swung a stake at a living man’s skull,
the bones of hands that crushed his throat as he gave his last kick,
the bones of arms, shoulders and chest that dropped him like a bucket to bounce
down off the deepest stones in his well.
*In an eighteenth-century dice game known as ‘Hazard’, if the caster calls, for example, the number seven as a ‘main’, and he then throws on the first toss either the main or the number eleven, he ‘nicks’, or wins the game.
James Buchanan Speaks from Unconsecrated Ground
Though I was born and raised in Glasgow,
in year of Our Lord 1742, my residence now
is in what used to be a potters’ field,
in a grave never marked with stone or name.
And any trace of that grave was erased long ago
by a town that grew over sixty fold
to sprout into a city with foundations whose roots
have crushed into dust all my bones.
But what is even worse for me
is the company I’m cursed to keep,
to lie beside and haunt these streets
with the ghost of that bounder named Billy Brooks,
that thrawn-faced rake whose decision
to murder Joshua Spooner
got our thrapples twisted by a hangman
on a scaffold in a place called Worcester.
But Brooks will tell you, and I must agree,
that he was a victim, too, that, although
he was the main performer in that lethal deed,
he was ensnared like Adam by an Eve. And who
was the seductress who tempted with forbidden fruit,
who beguiled us into the act of Cain?
She was the unfaithful wife of Joshua Spooner.
She was a spell-weaving Circe of a web of doom.
Ezra Ross Recalls from His Grave His First Experience of Bathsheba Spooner**
Sometimes, I was aware of a presence
as I sweated under quilts.
Sometimes, I felt a wet cloth
pass over my brow or press
upon my skin, where it soaked up
every demon from my nightmare.
And the bed that had seemed a vessel
thrashing about in a howling storm
suddenly became a cradle,
lulling the storm into a calm
and sailing me to a sheltered cove,
to an anchorage of steady sleep.
Once, I felt a naked hand
upon my brow, then a kiss.
And I believed that the presence I sensed
had been my mother Joanna’s, all along,
and that I was still a child,
safe in my bed, in Ipswich.
But, later, I discovered
I was not in Lyndebrook Parish in my bed,
nor was the one who kissed me my birth mother;
instead, the mother who kissed me
became my lover – Bathshua Spooner –
mother of my death.
**Although Bathsheba Spooner’s legal, given name was Bathsheba, she preferred to use the byname ‘Bathshua’ (given to her by her father to distinguish her from her mother), and she also signed her name as such, even when appealing to the Massachusetts Executive Council for a stay of execution.
Bathshua’s Spirit Recalls the Axe That Felled Her Marriage
Perhaps I should have been the submissive ideal,
fit for an instruction guide for the Goodwife.
Perhaps I should have mirrored
what men demanded of the thing they called us:
‘the softer sex’. Perhaps
I should have emulated my sisters.
Despite what they knew to be true,
they adhered to the will of their husbands,
though their husbands, like mine,
had the courage of a cur tethered to its master’s tree.
And its master was the mob unleashed
by fifes and drums of the rebels
to tar and feather the truth.
To be like them I could never be.
I was too much like my father, and,
for that reason, I was the child he most cherished.
I was ever too much like a member
of the masculine gender
to suffer myself to submit
to the rule of my husband
in a matter that meant as much to me
as to my daddy: loyalty
to the authority of our King.
My allegiance to my Sovereign
was so firm that this difference between
my husband and me was bound
to lead to disaster. To the contempt
I felt for him in our intimate relations,
the contempt in which I held him
owing to his treason was joined,
and thus I could suffer not so much as a touch
from him without wishing him dead.
Politics was the axe that felled whatever remained
standing in our marriage, and politics left
the severed limbs and trunk of our union
to rot in the swamp of the American rebellion.
© Jack Grady