by Phyllis B. Katz

Pressed Flower Scrapbook, Norwich, VT

Written words were in my blood.
An ardent abolitionist,
my grandfather gave slaves
voice, wrote poems
for an unnamed Whig,
described his public battles
with sheriffs and with creditors.
My hotel-keeper father, composed
a love poem to woo his bride.
Their words still speak for them.

My grandmother, and mother,
left only records of births, deaths,
and marriages. Living under
a cloak of duty, devotion to family,
they had little time for words.

I chose a different road-
I did not know
my plans, my hopes,
soon would be destroyed.

My sister dead, I was called
to keep her home, her children,
a servant in their house,
no room there for the life
I’d planned.

I saved my lecture notes
from medical school,
words that mattered.
I could not speak or
write about
the life that now
was mine.

Made of images,
not words,
I let my book of pressed flowers
speak for me.


Writing about Edastina Bush

Phyllis B. Katz

 I was introduced to the life of Edastina Bush, 1856-1932 by Nancy Osgood, when I asked if there were archives about medicine. As in all the research I have ever undertaken, one discovery often leads to another quite unexpected treasure. For me, this was Edastina’s Book of Pressed Flowers.   Edastina’s acceptance to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of three medical schools in the country that admitted women, her notebooks of the courses she took, records of annual medical school banquets were all fascinating. I wanted to know more about how she had chosen this difficult path, but could find no material on this subject. With the help of the very knowledgeable Nancy and of Judy Brown, I discovered that her grandfather Fairbanks Bush had been known as The Minstrel Poet of Norwich, one of his poems, “The Slave’s Lament was published in Norwich, Vermont: A History, 2012, others in A History of Norwich, Vermont, 1905, including “A Whig’s Song” and “Norwich Wears the Bell,” all mentioned in my poem, along with an unpublished poem in the Bush archives by Fairbanks Bush, “The Invitation.” The poem I’ve written was triggered by things visible in the archival boxes, the library of the Historical Society’s Lewis House, and Histories of Norwich and inspired by things missing about Edastina that I wanted to be there but could not find. My poem combines my interpretation of existing material and my “reading” between the lines of what is missing.

About Phyllis: Phyllis lived in Norwich for 25 years. She was awarded the Oberon Poetry Prize in 2014 for her poem “Emily Dickinson’s Gorgeous Nothings.” Her two books of poems, All Roads Go Where They Will, December 2010, and Migrations, November 2013, were published by Antrim House Books. She is currently working on a third book of poems.