top of page

L E A N N E   H O W E

from 1918  Union Valley Road


In the months to come an astonished Pentecostal Holiness preacher

Will say Iva Hoggatt was called by God,

She has the mahogany mark of divine protection across her face, he says,  

Lack of oxygen, fool, says her Irish father-in-law. She nearly died from the flu.





































The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.




































Maybe it was while reading the 1918 Union Valley Bulletin 

      A political handbill given John Hoggatt by a hacking cougher at the feed store 

Maybe it was the sour apple gone mahogany black that he’d eaten from his wife’s cellar stash 

    He knew he should have given it to Trudy their hog

Maybe it was the six-mile walk to and from his father’s farm in Stonewall, Oklahoma   

     Just to ask, need help with that heifer, Pop?  

Maybe it was the burning tingling running over the top of John’s head  

     As if he was being roasted alive, filling him with fear


     He coughed into his fist, no

          Iva honey, lock the gate so the Crowder boys can’t steal our cow

     He coughed into his fist, no

          Iva honey,

     He coughed into his fist 

          Iva, so cold. 


Winds like a siren whip the Junipers outside, maybe 90 per,

     He swayed left, and then right, and onto their Jenny Lind bed 

          A wedding gift, 

          Coveralls still on.




























Shocked into 


by sunlight 

Iva supports 

herself with her 

arms and leans 

forward Eyelids 

thick and 

gluey Has 

she been 

crying in 

her sleep?


The bed 

is cold, the 

stove out Her 

long black 

hair matted by 

high fevers In 

her dreams, 

the sounds 

of a gurgling 

brook She 


at John, her 

teeth chatter He

is completely 

blue now. She 

presses on 


chest. Blood 

and mucus slip 

between his blue 

lips Breathe, John,  




worry I 

gave our baby 

girl to your 

sister, Euda  


the day 


maybe last 

week, She’s safe.

Didn’t make 

a sound, just 

waved bye-bye, 

Bye-bye, bye

-bye, Mommy. 

Like you, 

she doesn’t 

complain Like 

you, she’s more 

Irish than

Cherokee – 

like me.


Breathe, John,

Breathe. Take 

a breath, John 

Hoggatt  How 

many times?  


Iva curls 

up by his 

side, played 

out Who hast 

never bruised 

a living 

flower, she 

whispers. Now 

I lay 

me down 

to sleep I 


the Lord 

my soul to 

take If I 

should die 

before I 

















The sun is yet a rumor 

          Iva sleeps like the dead 


Until she doesn’t.

         On the third day she feels herself rising 


She observes herself in the mirror 

          Washes her mahogany cheeks 


That’s odd, she thinks 

         Lock the gate, John,

         Or the Crowder boys will steal our cow.


She coughs into her handkerchief  

          John honey, 

She coughs into her handkerchief 

          John honey, 

She coughs into her handkerchief  

          Hear me. 


Yes Iva  

          You live in unmeaning dreams, he says,

The grave is ready.


John honey



I washed your Sunday shirt 

          Hung it on the line to dry    


We can bury our faces 

          In summer laundry 


Taste the scent of sun

          In a field of light 


Breathing as one 


















Iva is dreaming again

She hears his name, John,

The sound like a bell on her tongue,  













































Give me your hand, John Hoggatt,

Remember our fishing hole at Byng 

Fat fish fed from Blue River 

I said switch canes from there 

Made the finest Cherokee baskets 



Give me your hand, John 

Together we’ll catch a mess of perch,

Cut canes for baskets and head home,

We can invite your folks over for supper,

Only a short wagon ride away, 

Not far.


Give me your hand, dearest 

Remember last fall, we helped build the Byng P.O.

Named in honor of Sir Julian Byng  

A British World War I hero. 

Your father had a conniption. 

You, an Irishman, putting an Englishman forward!


Give me your hand, Johnny boy 

I call you home now, I call you home tomorrow

A thousand times I call, even as our bodies flake into stars 

Get up John Hoggatt  

You cannot stay in this death bed

Get up.


Walk on Iva, says John, softly.

Walk on my girl,

My girl, 





















No, it wasn’t like that – you didn’t see 

He was lying quietly, mouth shut, one hand on his chest,

The other frozen in mid-stir 


We were curled be side one another

When they found us

               Be side, what a wonderful word

Be side is the scent I carry 

Be side the first man I touched

And him touching me. 

Be side John when I was raised from the dead, 

Fully awake, 

               I heard something,

               Perhaps our baby 

A kitten crying for a saucer of milk 

A kitten crying because she is lost 

Because she is forsaken

Because she is left alive. 


No, not the cat, 






























Birth     31 Jan 1893 Washington, United 

              States of America

Death   7 Jan 1919 Union Valley,

             Pontotoc County, Oklahoma,

             United States of America 



             Not much of an account of my life, 

             No mention of you,

             Our daughter, the farm,

             Two Holsteins, and Blackie the cat


            Dearest, there is no anthem for a man

            Who marries a Cherokee girl, barely 18,

            Makes her a widow at twenty, 

            Knowing she’ll linger another sixty years  



             Iva, how could I know  



             It’s in the newspaper



            We could go on like this 




LeAnne Howe is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.  She is the Eidson Distinguished Professor of American Literature in English at the University of Georgia.  Howe is the author of novels, plays, poetry, and screenplays.  She’s the producer and writer for the 60-minute Searching for Sequoyah that aired November 2021 on PBS stations and affiliates in the U.S.  Savage Conversations (Coffee House Press, 2019) is Howe’s novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and a Savage Indian ghost that Mary claimed tortured her nightly in 1875.

     In August 2020 Howe published two books: Famine Pots: The Choctaw Irish Gift Exchange 1847-Present (Michigan State University Press), co-edited with Irish scholar, Padraig Kirwan; and When the Light of The World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, co-edited with Jennifer Elise Foerster and former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The excerpt above, about her grandmother’s life, is from Howe’s in-progress novel, 1918 Union Valley Road, set in Oklahoma during the flu epidemic. 

bottom of page