towards the hanging tree poems by ginny connors

picture of ginny connors
Photo by Brian Ambrose  

Ginny Connors’ Toward the Hanging Tree is a devastating and inspiring collection of poems depicting the depths to which the human spirit can descend but also exalting the courage and humanity of that spirit in the reactions of many to the Salem witch hunt of 1692. As Clare Rossini notes, the poems “seem to live inside the voices of these characters, the urgency of their fears and desires, their deep failings and triumphs.” Vivian Shipley writes, “This powerful collection transcends both time and geography, arriving at the universal truth that what does prevail through even the most brutal experiences is the force that cannot be silenced—the human heart.” And this from Dick Allen: “I’ve never felt the terror and pathos of the Salem witchcraft story as deeply as I have after reading Ginny Connors’ masterful, carefully hewn poems centered on Sin (‘something coiled up and tight’)…. Empathy and major poetry skill combine to make Toward the Hanging Tree a gripping, illuminating recasting of our early American nightmare.” Richard Trask, himself an expert on the events described in the book, says, “This is a never-before attempted, delightful collection of poems relating to the entire story of the Massachusetts witchcraft outbreak of 1692. Through Ginny Lowe Connors’ poetic artistry merged with solid research of historic facts, we glimpse the human heart’s response to terrifying events.”
  toward the hanging tree cover image
  Cover painting: Thomas S. Noble, The Salem Martyr, NY Historical Society

Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of two previous poetry collections: The Unparalleled Beauty of a Crooked Line and Barbarians in the Kitchen, as well as a chapbook, Under the Porch, winner of the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. In addition, she has edited several anthologies. Connors, who earned an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts, has served as the poet laureate of her town, West Hartford, Connecticut, where she worked as an English teacher for many years. She also runs a small poetry press, Grayson Books. You can find out more about her poetry by visiting her website:


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ISBN 978-1-943826-10-0

Copyright © 2016 by Ginny Lowe Connors

6" x 9" paperback, 96 pages



Copyright © 2016 by Ginny Lowe Connors


Tituba Makes a Witch Cake
a slave serving the Parris family

Abigail—that child! Poked a log from the fire, kicked it
’round the room till the house fill up with smoke.
Fire! Fire! Flames grow higher! she shouted out
and Betty fell down moaning,
began to choke.

Next day’s news—a neighbor’s house had burned!
And a baby-child died. The reverend’s white face
went pale and paler. Then Abigail said
The devil’s mistress is about! Came
to me, and Betty too.

What to do? Rye meal and hot piss, baked in ashes—
that make a witch cake. A cake to draw the witch
from hiding. Goody Sibley said to make that cake.
And she a Christian woman.
Told me Try it! So I did.

I would never hurt those children. I love those children.
Was the devil’s own familiars tortured them.
Abby claimed it to be true, and Betty too.
The witch cake were never my idea,
but I’m the one dragged away.

Rye meal and hot piss, baked in ashes—I made a witch cake.
Abigail spun around and shouted, Tituba! Tituba!
Twists my neck!
And then she fell.
The reverend caned me hard,
demanded me to tell

about the witchcraft I’d been doing. But all I could say
was I never hurt those children. I love those children!
Think they’d listen to me? Dragged me away
and searched me for witch marks
though I got not a one.


Mary Knows

I know about sin.
Invisible, but it’s there, like the wind
that tries to get inside your skin
or like the dream as real
as a pricker bush pulling at your dress,
as sure as a rolling pin—
but the dream lives inside you,
invisible to others. That’s sin.
It’s heavy, like water in buckets
I carry back from the well,
trying not to spill. My mother died
of it and my little sister
took quite ill.

Sin is musty, like rotten straw
stuffed in a mattress
or it’s restless—the secret
you’ve promised not to tell.
It’s the thin odor of metal
in the drop of blood, dark red,
that serves you right
when you’re careless with the needle
as you mend. It pricks like a pin.
It smells like a toothache
or like a charred broom
with its history of fires
that wish to spread.


Joseph Leech Does His Duty
the hangman

Not a job I ever set out to do
but as assistant sheriff
I do what Corwin tells me to.
Bridget Bishop was the first.
A stubborn woman, she wouldn’t admit
to witchcraft, even at the end,
when it might’ve helped her some.
Most likely she was a liar. She showed
no shame for all her wicked ways,
but what if—

No matter. I had to guide her
up the ladder. Her legs was shaking. She clung hard
to every rung and had to be prodded some
to go on up. The rain was done,
the heat was out. Sweat—it made my shirt stick,
and trickled down my sides. Gnats swarmed us so,
I wished I could swat ’em away, but my hands
held the ladder and urged the witch woman on.
Bridget Bishop. Truth is she smelled. Her neck
was grimy; her hair hung in oily clumps. A smell
of musk, of fear, sour and heady all at once
came roiling toward me.

One rung at a time we went up. Crowd below us
shouted things, horses side-stepped
and snorted. A boy threw a rock that went
skittering past the witch’s cheek.
Oh God, Oh God, she muttered,
and then she retched. Little gold specks
floated before my eyes and sparked—
I wondered if it was her doing.
Some sort of last-minute spell.
How shameful if I fell! I’m no witch
she told me. My death will be
a darkness on your soul.
But I
had my duty and I did it.

They passed the black hood up to me
which I placed around her head
while she protested, twisting around,
staring at me with huge gray eyes in a face
so pale she might’ve already been dead.

I reached for the noose that hung
from a sturdy branch. Arranged it
around her neck, almost tenderly.
These would be her last moments.
With another length of rope
I tied her hands behind her back,
the hemp stiff and splintery.

What makes someone a witch? For years
she lived among us and we didn’t know.
She was crying harder now,
and between the sobs sucking in breaths
like someone about to drown.

Shaking some. A minute passed,
an hour, or a day. A feeling sneaked
into me: glad it was not me with a noose
around my neck. A final prayer said.
Then Corwin called up the command.
I sucked in some wind and I did it,
just did it—pushed her from the ladder.

A roar from below. The ladder shook.
Carefully I climbed down while she swung
and twisted in the air. Kicked her feet.
A field of sparks before my eyes.
A cold sweat. Had to rush toward the bushes
for this was my first hanging, and I was weak.


Abigail Gets Ready to Shout

I never think on my dead parents,
dead sister. That part of my life is blank,
an emptiness. Past. You could say it’s full
of all I have not got. Some nights

even the moon is missing, but today
is strange. A pale moon floats like a wafer
in part of the sky, even while the sun
rules the rest. A rooster keeps crowing

though it’s nearly noon. He likes to make noise.
I do too. I like to be heard. Like to be looked at.
When girls are too good they’re invisible,
done for, as good as dead. A drawing

sticked into the dust, and then rubbed out.
The air is restless today, and the village fills
with horses and footsteps, whispers, shouts.
Bodies rushing by. Crowds hustle to the meeting house

where I’m appearing with Annie and Mercy,
Susannah, and others. We’re called the Afflicted.
The judges stare over their spectacles at us.
Neighbors too. They wonder just who is a witch,

and who is not. I steady myself, breathe in. I’ll let
the terror roll over me, share my torments,
cry out, accuse, accuse, point a trembling finger
at some woman or man who feels righteous—

but is not. I’ll have the people look at me,
and listen hard. I’m not afraid to shout. Some girls
may fade like shadows do when the light goes out,
but I—most definitely—will not.

Thomas Remembers Ranger

My bold friend Henry
who tracks game like a savage
and whoops like one too, at times,

obedient to his parents, but wild in the woods—
my good friend Henry,
he cried.

They took his dog away and hanged it
from the tree at Gallows Hill,
just as they did the other witches.

For Mary Warren said that when Ranger looked at her
he held a little growl in the back of his throat
that sounded much like the devil

and gazed at her with unblinking, evil eyes.
His eyes are really golden, like honey
and though Ranger’s mostly black,

there’s a white circle ’round his left eye.
And a blaze of white on his chest.
Panting and patient, Ranger would lie in the dirt

while we picked burrs and bristles from his fur
and flung away ticks, and scratched him just behind
the ears, while his tail went thump, thump, thump.

They hanged the dog on Saturday.
And Henry cried.