Ode to my great great grandfather’s five wives

by Millie Tullis


Marie (one)

was perhaps
your name

this is
all I know

you were French
and after

two weeks
the marriage

was annulled
because you

wanted to dance
he said

you would not
stay home



there was almost

between one
and two

a fifteen year old
girl who wouldn’t

quit crying at
the ceremony

Brigham Young

Do you want to
marry this man?


Take this child
home to her parents.


Anna Katharina (two)

you were Swiss
like him

already shared
a surname

your new husband
even gave

the money
that helped you

a widow with
an eight year old

daughter cross
the Atlantic

the plains
unto Zion

so there was debt
and gratitude

and duty before


Katharina Magdalena (three)

they have written
almost nothing

about you
you were eight

when he married
your mother

you were fifteen
when he married you

you lived
all together

after your marriage
in the way

you had
before it

how did
he ask

did you know
what was

was the body

of your step
father news

you died
two years later

over the birth
of your only child

your mother
weaned her baby

gave her breast
to yours


Polina (four)

ten days after
your first baby

was born
you had

a hankering
for the garden’s

green grapes
ate them

and died
the baby

my sister says

I’ve read enough
fairy tales

to know eating
the grapes

is what
killed her


Agnes Florence (five)

only you are
my great great grandmother

you who lived
longest who had

seven children

to write
about you

on the boat
from England

you slept
in steerage

for three weeks
you threw everything

up except
a daughter writes

the grapes
a missionary

placed behind
your lips

and when
the boat almost

sank you told
your daughter

there were
too many


for God
to let it sink

you were working
in the temple

the morning he
brought in wood

you were married
by afternoon

you made
English puddings

when things
were good

when he left
on a mission

you ate only

and salt
for three weeks

when one baby
fell in the fire

you rubbed her
hands with potatoes

bandaged each
finger separately

so they
would not


you were a nurse
your mother a midwife

I don’t know
who took

the knife
three months later

who cut
the right

pointer off

someone said
it was

the other


MILLIE TULLIS is an MFA poetry candidate at George Mason University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, Rock & Sling, Ninth Letter, Juked, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, Mud Season Review, and elsewhere. She serves as the Assistant Editor for Best of the Net and Poetry Editor and Social Media Manager for Phoebe.

Photo: Agnes and another woman holding flowers.