Praise for Salem in Séance:
In Salem in Séance, an incendiary collection of poems about accused witches, Susana H. Case recreates a world of sickening contingencies. With style and compassion, she evokes the stories of the mostly women and girls who were victims in the Salem Witch Trials, when “those without powerful friends” were sometimes sentenced to be hanged, and one was even crushed. In these radiant poems, Case reminds what happened when “Satan was present and active,” when a woman was “carried like a gust great distances through the air,” when a woman “signed her name in blood.” -Margo Taft Stever, author of Frozen Spring
The piercing and politically aware poems in Susana Case’s Salem in Séance give voice to the victims of politics of condemnation as “accusations / fly unleashed, like my vowels used to whoosh / through echoing rooms.”
So many of the poems’ lines could be about contemporaneous events: “Elizabeth Cary” knows that “those… / rich enough to assure salvation, praise / the Lord for the glory of bribery.” And in “Diseases of Astonishment” we read, “he believes / there is too much / soaring individualism, moral decline;” although clearly he who condemns is an exception to this concern.
“The threat is burning for eternity— / forgiveness is bad for business.” The horror of Salem’s tragic history and its legacy echo thanks to Susana H. Case’s mastery of art and craft. – Meredith Trede, author of Tenement Trenody
First to testify, I shove my unruly hair
underneath my white bonnet,
clean for the occasion. Mindful
of appearance, I know
the villagers cannot abide me: my poverty,
curses I admit
I have made upon their livestock.
[You make excuses for them!]
But I must, I am wrecked
since the loss of inheritance
rights, my downhill slide,
know the ruin upon me
makes my eyes look hollowed out,
more like seventy than thirty-eight.
Even my four-year-old
gives evidence against me. And my husband,
William, affirms if I am not already a witch,
I soon will be one.
The worshipful Mr. Hathorne, asked him his reason why he said so of her, whether he had ever seen any thing by her. He answered ‘No, not in this nature; but it was her bad carriage to him: and indeed,’ said he, ‘I may say with tears, that she is an enemy to all good.’
[The burden of text, of dismissive husbands.]
When asked, it is true,
I cannot recite what I have been muttering—
the Ten Commandments, no devil’s curse.
A witch, they said, would leave
this clear indication, the inability.
I dissolve like sand in mud.
In court, a girl cries out
I stabbed her breast; she produces
a piece of knife she says
she pulled from her chest. A man
comes forward, the only supportive one,
testifies he broke his blade the day before,
threw the upper part away near
the afflicted girl. When the two knife pieces
fit, the judges are agitated. The girl
is told to stick to facts,
not exaggerate, but so many
are already sure, and I am guilty
of homelessness, the burden
of Daniel Poole—
my dead first husband’s debts.
When the accusers again fall down
in fits, quake like feverish dogs, I have
no choice but to accuse
the other Sarah—Osborne.
[I do not blame you.]
I fear it fixes my fate
with the trial I help legitimate. Soon
we will both die.
She admits a recurring dream, a sign
of witchcraft, of the devil—an Indian
grabs her by the hair,
drags her from all she knows, her home.