"Your Father is Injured" and "House for a Dollar"

Your Father is Injured

Except for rape or trickery
you choose your child’s other parent.
at the moment of conception.
This decision can be neither
reversed nor erased.
A future nicer partner
cannot change your child’s DNA.
It has always been this way.
Even the jaded reporters who have seen more
human rot than anyone, who sit slumped
in the last row of the courtroom gallery
whether in 1879 or 1903 or Now
know someone’s life is about to change
at sentencing.
Emily Davis can tell you that tangled story
of what happens when a stranger kidnap merges
into parent abduction.  She knew enough
not to help a stranger find a lost dog.
She did not know a stranger, not much older
than herself, could be lying when he found her
at school. 
            Come with me. Your father is injured
            Charles Schuyler said to her.

$500 ransom in 1879.
The man was a fisherman
who caught children for profit
wrote ransom letters to affluent fathers
in Buffalo – in this case to a man who held
land interest in the woods and meadow
where my house – first structure on this land –
was built in 1956.  Emily was the young
fisherman’s first catch. 
After she wrote the letter he dictated,
he had her swear an oath she would not tell
and then – in similar fashion to a parent
abductor in a modern custody fight –
he let her go.
He had prepared a second note himself
‒ in case he found her brother first –
demanded a thousand for the boy.
(When that letter came to light,
the papers do not say if Emily
complained of the inequity.)
The kidnapper was young
came from a good family
was working overnight shifts
            I have fallen into very bad company.
            I feel deeply penitent and pray
            that Your Honor in passing sentence
            will deal very leniently with me.*
The judge was not dissuaded.
Seven years. 
But Grover Cleveland, New York’s
Governor and future President, let him
go soon after  –  substituted his own judgment
for those who knew better
just as experts have done ever since – 
ignored the evidence put before him
and unwittingly launched a career criminal
by failing to understand that careers ‒
whether criminal or respectable ‒
have to start somewhere. 
To conclude a first bad act
might be the final bad act
rather than the first of many is a risk.
To let that person off because
of duty or station, may make further
mischief both possible and probable.
By 1903, his methods were well set
            dragged her by the hair
            brandished a butcher knife
            applied a red hot stove poker to her flesh
            struck her with his fist
            told her to take their three children and get out
He kept the boy and concealed him
and his attorney said
            I will not
            be responsible
            for getting him back**
Like today



*Charles E. Schuyler’s Plea for Leniency  Little Falls Gazette. November 4, 1879.

**Tale of Cruelty Told in Affidavits.  Syracuse Post-Standard. June 14, 1903.



A House for a Dollar

one party may be willing to buy or sell the property for a price lower than what it would get at market value to benefit the other party. https://bungalow.com/articles/what-it-an-arms-length-transaction
Think about it
What’s it worth to you
to be a builder of houses
on land that floats
for months each year?
How determined are you
to build patio houses on a swamp?
Did your mother ever tell you
that you are stubborn and when you
get an idea in your head you cannot
be dissuaded by science or the lay of the land?
Did your Dad ever tell you
when you bought that house and the six acres behind it
for a dollar that you would be better off in politics
than land ownership
with that head on your shoulders?
But No.  Now you have shown your pig-
headedness to all who pass by your sign
Bush Meadows and see the lake
around the 1831 house you gutted
for antique windows and doors
Did you notice even then
that the first owner knew better than you?
Did you notice
there is no basement to that house
though built when root cellars were the thing?
The house raised on a berm
on slightly higher ground
to avoid Spring waters
while you are building patio houses
on flood plain meadows?
And finally,
Do you see the neighbor’s boat moored next to your driveway?
Did you think it’s meant for the canal across the street? 
No. Rather for the lake-filled fields behind your house
before the water recedes ‒ just a little ‒ to grow corn and apples
A house for a dollar
A flood forever
Bush Lake



Note:  Land record taken from North Tonawanda, NY Assessor’s Office.



Martha Deed

Martha Deed's poems and stories have appeared in New Verse News, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Moss Trill, The Buffalo News, Poemeleon, The Skinny Journal, BlazeVox Journal and many others. She's published 7 chapbooks. FootHills Publishing has issued her three poetry collections, Climate Change (2014), Under the Rock (2019) and Haunted by Martha (2023). She mostly does not write about murder anymore. Politics and her feisty house are challenges enough.

In these days of book banning and libraries' struggle to maintain their freedom to read policies, Martha recommends donating to one's local public library.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, May 2, 2024 - 23:14