Five Poems by Pauletta Hansel

My 10th Great Grandmother Sees the Supernova, 1604

 On the 10th October 1604 a certain strange light was first observed in the heavens... quite small, but soon…
visible even by daylight, surpassing in brightness all fixed and wandering stars... (Galileo’s lecture notes) 

I see you, grandmother, though not clearly. 

Rough pinafore and kerchief, a girl

of eight or six or ten yoked with water

from the stream, cheeks red with wind 

blown constant from the North Sea. 

The stony path. Feet not hardened to their work.

Would you have even raised your eyes?

I’ll lift them for you. Small dense star

that shatters, launches 

outward into unimagined universe. 

Star of hope or angry eye of God?

Red sparkling waves like fires of Mars 

and Jupiter’s bright lightning.

And soon enough you too will fling

yourself into an unfixed world. 

Perhaps I make too much of this.

Exploding star reshapes the map

of once immutable heavens scant years before

England’s “adventurers of purse and person” 

journey toward a land that must to them,  

and to you in 1621, have seemed the moon.

Today your remnants roam this continent 

and up above, debris from Kepler’s Nova 

wanders still no slower now than then,

four centuries and counting,

a pulsing mass of stardust 

I see on my computer screen,

light years away. 


Margaret: Her Story

Grandmother, first spark of fire beneath the story which is not 

story, mere kindling that flares without the heat of plot. 

All scene and character, and that you surely were, a shivered 

maid upon the wooden ship, so aptly named, that carried you across. 


This story I tell mere kindling, and yet the flames bring heat 

to speak more than I know. You, Margaret sailed on the Warwick, 1621,

a lady’s maid. This “bride ship,” aptly named, carried you, age 25, among

maydes “young and incorrupt,” and you would marry well and often, 


more than you then knew, Margaret from the weir, nee Dawson, 1621,

then Wroughton Attawell Grimes. These meager scraps of story. We’ll call them tinder: 

maydes “young and incorrupt,” you oldest among them. And you would live.

That’s no small matter. Your name with the few: Virginia’s List of Livinge, 1623,


not yet Wroughton, much less Attawell or Grimes. Living on scraps. You tender 

girl. How did you survive that war? How did you wed Ezekiah? Was it love? 

That’s no small matter. Your name not yet by his, Virginia’s List of Livinge, 1623. 

By 1624, you were Margaret, blacksmith’s wife. Your family just begun. 


Girl, you survived Ezekiah, Thomas, Edward. Was it ever love? 

Three times a bride from seabound shivered maid. 

In 1624, you were Margaret, blacksmith’s wife. Our family begun. 

Grandmother, first spark of fire beneath this story which is not done.  


Facts About the Grandmothers 

(Margaret to Etta, 1596-1991)

One granny was a granny woman 

along the York River 

tending after birth in 1646, 

one whose water scalded her.

One granny at my birth in 1959, 

came unbidden to tend her daughter

at the breaking of her water,

only to see her swept away

behind cold metal doors.

Most grannies raised the next of them

along the banks of hungry rivers.

They died of cancer, consumption,

causes unknown.

They outlived husbands, children,

died before they were grannies at all. 

They died with nothing, 

died with livestock, jewelry, servants, 

slaves. One granny 

left her children’s children

another child’s granny, 

another granny’s child.

Three grannies left me photographs,

each with sunken cheeks and unreadable eyes.

I have no words

writ with a granny’s hand. 

A mark upon the page—ix ye sign.

One granny snored beside me

in her featherbed, her Indian hair

unleashed from its Pentecostal coil.

One granny shot an Indian with his own gun.

Four pairs of grannies shared each other’s names.

One granny gave me hers,

and combed her fingers through my feathery curls.

I have laid my hands on stones above four grannies’ bones.

Three grannies—more—

lie beneath salt water’s rising tide.

Two grannies—mother, daughter—

lay beneath the same man’s—husband, father—

grunt and thrust, 

pushed from their bodies

that same man’s sons.

Some grannies I don’t know, 

I don’t know, 

I don’t know. 

Not even a name.


Prayer for the Long-Gone Grandmothers

Let there be hands

entwined beneath rough plank

of table. Splintered, calloused, kind.

A feathered glance. A kiss

placed on the secret skin.

Let these lives that bore my own

have lived not only plunge and lift

from rocky soil, not only

fumbled thrust into gaunt flesh

that fills each year with child.

Let there be a rag doll

dangled down to waiting hands.

Soft universe of aproned lap.

Grandmothers, let there be

full-throated laughter

to stave off hunger 

ever at the door.


Genealogy (IV)

Nobody stayed put.

Let that be the family motto.

Let’s call the moon

our coat of arms. 

Let’s call the river our blood

kin for how she flows

like thread that stitches 

ragged seams.

I will be history’s daughter.

Let my pen be whetted needle 

sharp enough to mark 

the place our story

begins again with each

bedraggled landing 

on another muddy shore.

Notes on the poems:

My 10th Great Grandmother Sees the Supernova, 1604

Galileo quote and other material from “Focus: Supernovae. In 1604, strange signs were seen in the heavens. An entirely new star burst forth into the skies.” Astronomy Now, Vol. 18, No. 10, p. 58 - 59 (2004).
“Adventurers of purse and person” is the phrase used to describe the settlers who came to Virginia prior to it becoming an English colony.

Margaret: Her Story

“Young and incorrupt” was part of the Virginia Company’s description of the “maydes.”

Married Well and Often is the title of a book by Robert K. Headley, Jr., about marriages in early Virginia.

Facts About the Grandmothers 

Margaret is documented as a midwife in Good Wives, Nasty Women and Anxious Patriarchs by Kathleen M. Brown.
One whose water scalded her is likely suffering from a urinary tract infection. It is also possible that this refers to symptoms of syphilis, which was rampant in “the new world.”

photo: Kentucky Rose Photography

Pauletta Hansel’s ten poetry collections include Will There Also Be Singing? (Shadelandhouse Modern Press, 2024), Heartbreak Tree (Madville Publications, 2022), which won the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2023 North American Book Award, and Palindrome (Dos Madres Press, 2017), winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for poetry. Her first book, Divining, led to being named 2002 Ohio Poet of the Year. Pauletta’s writing is featured in Oxford American, Rattle, and Poetry Daily, among others. Pauletta was the 2022 Writer-in-Residence for The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, previously having served as Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018), Thomas More University’s first Writer in Residence (2012-2015), and WordPlay Cincy’s first Writer in Residence (2015-2016). She is past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, and served as guest editors for the 2021 Lexington Poetry Month Anthology and Now and Then Magazine, among others. She leads writing workshops and retreats virtually and in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond.