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cELEBRATING THE CENTENNIAL OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT

Former Tanner Fellow and Utah Poet Laureate, Paisley Rekdal contributed to The New York Philharmonic’s centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment through Project 19. The initiative includes new works by 19 women composers, from Pulitzer Prize winners to emerging talents and launched in February 2020. Project 19 is the single largest women-only commissioning initiative in history. We at Tanner Humanities are excited to contribute to the creation of a more complete and inclusive history.

 

Wild Horses

by Paisley Rekdal

 

Seraph Young Ford, Maryland, 1887

First woman to vote in Utah and the modern nation, February 14, 1870.


I am known, if at all, for a moment’s

pride: first American woman

in the modern nation

to vote though at the time

 

I wasn’t considered American

by all. Not modern, either,

but Mormon, one

the East Coast suffragists had hoped

 

would vote Utah’s scourge of polygamy

out. But plural marriage

was on no ballot

I ever saw. Why would it be,

 

my mother asked, when men

make laws and shape

their women’s choice in freedoms?

And how changeable


those freedoms are

denied or given

certain women, she knew, who saw

a Shoshone woman one day selling ponies

 

from a stall: watched, amazed,

her pocket all the earnings

without a husband’s permission.

I wouldn’t be a white girl

 

for all the horses

in the world, the woman scoffed

at her astonishment: my mother

who never sold an apple

 

without my father’s

say-so. Like my mother,

I married young, to an older man who believed–

like certain, stiff-backed politicians–

 

to join the union, Utah

must acculturate, scrub off

the oddities and freedoms

of its difference, renounce

 

some part of politics and faith:

our secrecy and marriage customs,

and then my woman’s right to vote. All gone

to make us join

 

the “modern” state--

And so perhaps I might be known

for what I’ve lost: a right, a home,

and now my mother, who died

 

the year we moved back East.

How fragile, indeed, are rights

and hopes, how unstable the powers

to which we grow attached.

 

My husband now can barely leave his bed.

As he’s grown ill, I’ve watched myself

become the wife

of many men, as all men in the end

 

become husband

to a congregation of women.

When he dies, I’ll move back West

to where my mother’s buried

 

and buy some land with the money

that she left–

To me alone she wrote,

who loved me,

 

and so for love of her

I’ll buy a house

and marble headstone

and fill my land with horses.

 

Paisley Rekdal is a former Tanner Humanities Center fellow, and the author of six volumes of poetry, most recently Nightingale (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Amy Lowell Trust, Civitella Ranieri, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. An inaugural Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, Rekdal was the Guest Editor for Poem-aDay in December 2019. She is the poet laureate of Utah and lives in Salt Lake City.

 

Last Updated: 8/21/20