Runner-up for the Graybeal-Gowen Prize

The Starving Time

We went on field trips to battlefields with long, green lawns


grazed on in the dark by deer, bordered with split-rail fences


and tall pines. What I remember of Jamestown is the smell of


root-beer barrels and the slow demonstration of musket fire.


How we covered our ears and how we ducked down into longhouses


softened by furs. Later we hear of how, during those first few years,


the gate was left on its hinges. The palisade walls and homes whittled down


to firewood. How their trash pit held musk turtles, snakes, and


the skeleton of a small girl with bones marked from butchering.


Evidence of the colonists’ cannibalism. They took anything they could get:


even themselves. Hunger sharpens everything. My aunt tells me that


when I came to live with her I hid chicken bones and sugar packets


under my pillow for assurance. They called those years at Jamestown


the Starving Time but they called whatever was left in the end miracle.


I went to school on a battleground. I cut my teeth on the new world.



Desiree Santana is currently a Poe–Faulkner fellow at the University of Virginia. She was born in Coeburn, Virginia and raised in Tidewater. You can find her work on, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.