Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 31, July 2013—Mixed Form Issue)

An excerpt from HAIRST


n [O.Sc. hervist, hayrst] (14c) 1: harvest 2: autumn 3: (19c) a harvest job, esp tak a hairst engage oneself as a harvest labourer; (20c) hae a day in hairst wi someone owe someone a favor, have a score to settle

For/to/because of Alexander Magruder

b. Perthshire, Scotland, 1610

transported 1652

d. Maryland, 1677

1734: Nathaniel Magruder, Alexander’s youngest son, deceased. At Inchaffray / Anchovray / Anchovie Hills: dwelling house 25 feet long, plank floor, one chimney, in poor repair. Negro quarters 10 feet long, in poor repair. Two 40-foot tobacco houses, in good repair. Milkhouse and garden with new palings, 262 apple trees, 1,494 panels of fence, 7 slaves. One, through age and lameness in her arms and hips, incapable of service, and I pray no levie be laid for her. An income of 1000 pounds (tobacco). A tenant farm bringing 600 more, with fruits of the orchard. In inventory of goods and chattels: horses called Knight and Fox, Negroes called Prince and Lizard, 2 old prayer books, 13 chairs, 52 pounds of pewter.

That will I take

my wrath is gone

that rose above such chatter

Better to be in the wood of wild rain

than vanish so a country where

There is small passion amongst them

In the same year, Sarah Beall Magruder died at Good Luck, a few miles away in the new county christened Prince George’s. A niece or daughter of Ninian Beall, we think, and without doubt widow of Samuel, oldest surviving son of Alexander’s first American marriage. He bought and inherited farmland, town land, warehouse, store. Owned shares in a Pertuxson Merchant Ship. Paid tax, in 1682, of nearly 50,000 pounds tobacco. Dead by 1711, he left to his sons 1200 acres, investments, instructions, slaves. And to his daughters ten pounds each, for to buy her a gown and a petticoat. Sarah had land of her own to give: 300 acres called Head Ake, left to one daughter and one granddaughter. And silver tankards and silver spoons and negroes—one each to nine named heirs in eight households. A canny division of root stock, of brow, breast, elbow, knee. Such hoeing and weeding, hairst and rain: by 1790, the first census, 45 Magruder households in 3 counties: 41 owned slaves.

tail of the beast terminates in leaf

small passion pandemic waste

of effort planted to disguise

I lean’d my back unto an oak

I thought it was a trusty tree

But first it bow’d, and then it broke

that God in all his werkis wittie be

I am reading a used copy of Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom marked heavily in the first six pages. The handwriting is large and looping: female, unreflective, and young. On the first page she has underlined slavery and slaves twice each, enslaved once. In the margin: obsessed by slavery. After page six, she has underlined nothing until page ninety, where this fragment is heavily marked with brown felt-tip: heathen savages was intolerable. There is no other mark in the book until, on the end-papers, in pink highlighter, these large capital letters: I HATE HISTORY!

engage an interpreter

this is a bibliography

1663, the Maryland Assembly—in between An Act for Ferrys and An Act for the Preservation of Harbours: that forasmuch as divers freeborne English women forgettfull of their free Condicõn and to the disgrace of our Nation doe intermarry with Negro Slaues. Etc. Such women to be exiled from the white territory of lawful increase, banished to the backlands of natural increase. The law took some tuning. In its first form, all such women, along with their children, joined their husbands in slavery for life. Later forms created a borderland, where for white and mulatta women alike the crime of mulatto bastardy brought seven years of servitude to the mother, thirty-one of indenture to the child. Which translates: all their most productive years, at hoe and forge and child-bed. All such unions defined as fornication, and all mulatto children illegitimate in advance. Father banished henceforth from the kingdom of ink. But corporeal ingenuity is difficult to trim. 1681: the first of three laws to stop unscrupulous masters and dames from breeding mulatto slaves on their serving women.

at cattle market stolen ground

such boundaries between words within

this Sot-Weed or To’bo

For gif Nature be not the chief worker

(and twenty other curious points)

make welcome, m’lord an history

that drynk be mynglet with mete

My serving girl Prissy, named in Sarah Magruder’s will, valued at £15. Priscilla Gray was her full name, a mulatta described as born of a white mother. If her father was a free black man, Priscilla’s indenture was twenty-one years; if a slave, thirty-one. Born around 1708, she might have been free by the 1730s, but with the birth of each of her children she was hauled into court and convicted, her term of bondage extended. Once, it was only for nine months, and the child sold for twenty-one years, so the father was a free man, maybe a white one; but in five other cases the child was bound for thirty-one years and Priscilla saw seven more years tacked onto her own sentence. 31 + 35? If she ever got free she was 66, the colonies on the eve of Revolution.

Here I must lament discourtesy

this piece of secret history I thought proper to mention

absolute in-fill drifting page

come to rest on the butt of a gun

Debtors and criminals met with the like

a serious hospitality

of woman’s blood not shed from a wound

Capture at night where it roosts

fledged family

In Prince George’s County in its first forty years, just twenty-six women convicted, for forty-two births. So, was the law effective? Or was it, from the start, formed in the very image of white fears—that oh-so-famous Irish Nell, who, like a ballad heroine, told Lord Baltimore to his face she would sooner lie with her slave husband, Daniel, than with your Lordship himself? (Or so they say.)

peradventure somewhat difficult

kinship with spaces mended

To lengthen a syllable naturally short

hybrid plant  unstable line

of metaphor addicting

if brevet bribery

braided bract

(someone had to clean up after

throw dry soil over the blood, and sweep)

Not the passion of love, but the act

the act and then the consequence

Twenty-six women in forty years: fully a third of them bound to Sarah and Samuel Magruder, their heirs, and a few close neighbors with whom they intermarried—the Wilsons, the Willets, the Bowies, the Spriggs. Even fewer women—only a handful—cleaved to their unacknowledged husbands and repeated the offense of family. Or, were bred again successfully by instigation, procurement, knowledge, permission or contrivance. Believe what best you like, or most you fear: most women convicted for multiple births were servants of Magruders and their kin. Priscilla alone bore seven children, with at least two fathers. For each birth brought to court and convicted, first by Sary Magruder, beloved widow of Samuel; and then, with great regularity, by William, their son, who it seems inherited Priscilla along with 193 acres of Turkey Cock Branch, a one-fourth interest in a Marlborough town lot, and injunction to work for himself from the age of sixteen. Work, that is, Priscilla’s sons, William and Joseph, with sundry slaves unknown.

Word laid down in the desk’s clutter

ghost of a sharp, calligraphic style

upturned phallic bud at the branch end

Here, a colored man made his thrust

copied at random, set adrift

‘not expect that I shall satisfy’

‘and earnestly therefore desire’

(Finlay, the red-haired bard, said this)

1745: a momentous year—how shall we mark it? In Scotland, it was Bliadhna Theàrlaich, Charlie’s Year. In the list of rebel officers later indicted, two Alexander McGrouthers—one old, one young—descendants of my Alexander’s cousin—recorded on the male line, with names of mothers optional. In Prince George’s County, 26 November: Priscilla Grimes alias Gray convicted for the birth of Catherine, her sixth child. For once, the shadow of a father here: a son of Isabella Grimes, another mulatta, sentenced at birth to twenty-one years as the property of Sarah Magruder.

Examine threads with a weaver’s glass

(irksome path of the candlelight)

divergent spiral, inturned knot

of forest at the yett

It’s then I go forth for shame’s sake

(it is a regular bondage)

traditional mourner, or

a bird

pushed in to an ecstasy

At Emancipation, slaves named Gray still served in Magruder households, descendants of Priscilla’s sons. Who got their freedom at 31. Who left behind their wives and children—grandchildren—great-grandchildren—as slaves for life. Family favorites, some of those Grays—promised freedom, named in wills. A long disquisition on seeming.

Patience in the first line

that none of them be wrested

blood-brushing hands insoluble

For whom am I filling the mirror?

O ten bonny sons I have born unto him

man with one of his legs cocked up

the other turned down toward the line of text

It is of course now impossible

(if filthy quagmire did in earnest put)

prolificke Temperment of Women

provokt by brutal or a fumbling man

if it is a life wound or seizing the hair of a woman

everything large and everything small

this horizontal kinship, or

blank space with line descending

Then why weep ye for the shambles, for a’ the dreary years sinsyne? All these remarkable animadversions from natural forms made arbitrary: monstrous animals, faces in swarm, vulgate of the curiosities. A page to discourage the most accomplished. Hand at left holding a taper. Two left feet at the bottom. Right side trimmed off, a head at the top—but whose? Bells, patens, chalices, altars, law books and prayer books. New spiral springs an inverted order. Hounds interlaced like ribbons down the edge of a vellum page. A question mark implies an answer. Surely some error, some breathing place in the middest of verse. Inure my pen sometimes in that kind. Neither so harde nor so harshe, that it will yeelde.

then give me, o indulgent fate

sudden ambush elaborate form

imbedded in principio

say tobacco which is to say the slave

a gudely gift ye wad gie to me

baritone caress 


whereby it is to be read or measured

fredome all solace

this ballad book

transshipped from one conveyance to another