I am still revising "Melissa/The Hired Girl." Finding the right voice for Melissa Hendricks has proven to be a very difficult task. I have struggled with the narrative aspects of the poem-- at times she is telling more than is necessary, or even perhaps realistic. At times her voice and personality get lost in the process of my telling a story. At times, I feel like I capture her voice, but make her tell too much. I have never revised and rewritten a poem, and still been less than satisfied, as I have with this one. I haven't even settled on a title.
In some ways, the poem seems transitional; that is, it provides a transition between poems that focus on John or Mary or John and Mary. Melissa seems superfluous. She is simply there to get us from one stage in John and Mary's lives to another. Perhaps that was the part she played in their lives. She was the hired girl, living with them, but not fully part of the family, and thus not fuly part of the story. But, she is a critical player in their story, even if only the object of John's desire, and through their adultery, the catalyst (but likely not the only cause) leading to John and Mary's divorce. John did not live with Melissa after the divorce, so perhaps her role in John and Mary's story, and hence in the Skimino Cycle, is ephemeral; transitional. So, perhaps the poem should not stand on its own, but rather act as a means to move from one poem to another.
I don't know. This one is hard to wrap my mind around. But, whatever the role of this poem, here's the latest draft:
THE HIRED GIRL
Melissa Hendricks, Marshall County, Kansas, 1873
This is my day today—
much like yesterday
and the day before that.
Up at dawn to help Miz Mary fix breakfast
while the older boys milk the cows.
Clean the kitchen after we’re done,
then sweep and straighten up the house.
The younger boys will feed the hogs
before they go to school.
Miz Mary and the boys finished the plowing.
Gene will be planting corn today;
Miz Mary and John will be in the far field sowing wheat.
I’ll have little Grant with me—
he can help me feed the chickens.
After that, I’ll fix lunch and take it out to the fields.
I hope Mr. John returns today.
He went out hunting on the prairie
and has been gone a week—longer than usual—
but I don’t dare say too much about that.
When I said something the other day
about him being gone so long,
Miz Mary snapped at me
and said she doesn’t understand
what is going through his head
and why he can’t help more with the farm.
I have missed him so much this week.
Talking with Mr. John always makes the day go faster.
He tells me what he’s seen on his trips.
We talk about the wildflowers and the prairie grass,
and how much of the prairie has been plowed up
since he and Miz Mary settled here.
I know all the flowers and trees here in Kansas,
so I ask him about the plants they have back East.
And the way he talks about the green mountains—
I would love to see them some day.
He talks about being a glass cutter back in Wheeling,
and said he’s thinking of making glass
here on the farm since he needs something to do
and can’t do heavy work anymore.
I am going to help him.
Sometimes he reads to me while I work.
He knows I have a hard time reading.
Sometimes I mix up the letters
and the words don’t make any sense.
He said he’s going to teach me to write.
Sometimes Mr. John just sits at the kitchen table,
drinks his coffee, and watches me while I work.
I feel his dark eyes following me around the room.
I like that he watches me.
He said I’m pretty—no one has ever told me that.
He seems happier when he is with me;
I noticed that he stands a little straighter
whenever he is around me.
I hope Mr. John returns today.
I could use some company.
If he’s not too sore and tired
we can work together in the garden.
We need to decide what to plant this spring.
Or, maybe we can just be together in the house.