Excerpts >Spring 2006

Sarah Kennedy

Mary Owen: Home Remedies, 1712

Fronds of bracken are dangerous for women with child to meddle with by reason they cause abortion... the country name of juniper is “bastard killer”
– Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, 1653

Her almond macaroons, proven to plump
the flesh, tempted the most withered consumptives,
and who could refuse a taste of her cowslip wine,
famous for bringing color to a pale cheek?
Her liquorice cakes could cool a fevered throat.
Copied from a royal receipt – Queen
Elizabeth Ever Caryd Some of these

about her – they never failed to stop
even the vigour of a most violent cold.
For lifeless hair she prescribed a wash
of fresh rosemary and ale, for St. Anthony’s
Fire, adder’s tongue juice in fresh cream.
All found relief in the home of Mary Owen,
no body, however plagued, was turned away.

That ancient Widow Wattson, her husband sighed,
who else would endure her company? With
her sack of evil leaves and her twisted face,
a fright to any innocent child, except
when she sat, of an evening, with Mary,
whose sweet demeanor made even the parson mild.
How like a lady, to work at her cookery book

with such seeming attention to that unlettered hag.
Wattson, muttering to herself, would scarcely see.
Whenever he entered the room or brought his companions,
she closed it up – such a good wife! –
and rose to offer tea. Her puddings could cure
the worst of stomach gripes. That writing
could wait – let the witch busy her hands

with her twigs. Balm and mint, Mary had noted,
sage and sweet marjoram. Fronds of bracken –
a particular gift. Mr. Owen shook his head
and said his spouse could count herself among
the saints, but he . . . he needed some peace for this night,
not these fluttering female movements. Nodding,
Mary eased her shuffling friend to the door

and gathered the herbs; she’d press them between
the sheets he’d never open. Receipts Pertaining
to Woman in Travail she had begun,
minutes before he appeared. Tomorrow, these
would be added to the plants Nurse Wattson
wishs me to have, for to use as I see Occasion.

Cranesbill for Cours’s that wont be Stopt,

juniper berries and milk To Bring Away
A False Conception. They had agreed, it was not
precisely untruth but a method, lest
the page should ever fall open under
a vulgar eye, to describe the secret liquors.
As the parables do, the old one had smiled,
veiling the words most needful to be saved.

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