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.

Copyright © 2020 Paisley Rekdal. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.