George Percy, Leader of the Virginia Colonists on Their Desperation During the Starving Time

by Myrna Stone

James Towne, Late Winter, 1610

No ship saves us from this our ghastly winnowing.
Today, in three communal kettles, we boil the last
of our leather aprons, our fine saddlery trappings,

and boots harvested from the bodies of our frozen
dead. Thus shall we fill our bellies as we must lest
we sup on air. Our dogs, cats, horses, and vermin

of every sort, we have already eaten. The savages,
who for months have encircled our palisade, taunt
us today with a creel of dried corn which ravishes

our common senses, as it lies just beyond the range
of our muskets. A fortnight ago, Hugh Price, lately
of Lutterworth, and newly bereft of his mind, raged

in the marketplace that if there were truly a just god
He would not suffer creatures whom He had made
and framed to endure such miseries. And, indeed,

a mere day and a half later, in the woods nearby,
he met his Maker, slain by Powhatans as brutally
outside these walls as famine hath slain us inside.

Others less addled have endured the selfsame fate
as hunger compelled them to risk foraging at dusk
beyond the gates for moss, pine bark, and snakes.

And one other, whom I shall not herewith name,
a colonist depraved beyond all reason, murdered
his young wife as she lay fast asleep beside him,

then cut out the child in her womb and threw it
in the river. Hours later, after butchering his wife,
he scored, salted, and potted what he could not eat.

We hanged him by the thumbs, with iron weights
upon his feet, a quarter of an hour before he would
confess the same. For such heinous crimes, fraught

with the Devil’s own bile, we burned him alive.
We who are left have not murdered. Nor do we
dream of it. Yet our brains buzz like beehives

each time we resurrect a body from this foul earth.
We beg God for forgiveness, and believe that He
offers it to us even as we sin anew in our cursed

extremity. When the leather is gone, we shall go
about stewing what is left of the young wife’s flesh
in a broth of roots, herbs, and well-powdered bone.

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