Felicité Petitot, Dec. 27, 1856

Wife of a journeyman, she'd survived
 it all: the trek across the breadth
 of France from her hamlet in the east
 to Paris, seething and cacophonous,
 and on to the gray sea she’d never seen
 either, at Le Havre, the forty-five days 
 on the ocean, almost being washed
 overboard, filth, frost bite, typhus, hunger,
 unloaded like freight at Castle Rock
 with $12 and her lace-making bobbins,
 the paddle steamer up the Hudson River,
 trudging in home-made wooden clogs
 through the bush, and on again
 over the Great Lakes, dreaming all the while
 of getting to the place Wisconsin,
 the eighty acres waiting, full of wild fowl,
 deer, trout, mandrake fruit and yellow flag;
 the river, woods and upland lush
 with butternuts and hazel, blackberries,
 violets and grapes; not knowing that air
 could be like knives, or that the trip
 would take so long; landing in Milwaukee
 just before her Christmas birthday, 1856,
 fifty-five years old, one hundred fifty miles
 to go to reach Belleville, Wisconsin,
 by ox-drawn wagon through deep snow,
 quailing at the wolves howling at night,
 shivering with ague, she rode up top,
 the men struggling on foot through drifts.
 Just twenty miles from what was
 to be their home, the driver hit
 a tree stump buried in the snow.
 The wagon bucked and pitched
 her, headfirst, to the frozen ground.
 She’d never live to see the pigeons
 thick as swarming bees.

—Catherine Jagoe, Madison, WI