Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 15 · no. 2 · Winter 2015


Poetic Research Department

Statement of Poetic Research

Catherine Sasanov
from Markd Y (Archives & Invocations)

In memory of the unnamed woman branded Y, sent in 1719 from Barbados to Kittery, Massachusetts, Province of Maine. The first pages of the poem (the pages directly preceding these), can be read at the online journal Poor Yorick.

Parsons, Usher,
Life of Sir William Pepperrell, bart: the only native of New England who was created a baronet during our connection with the mother country (1856), pg. 28


On one occasion Benjamin Bullard, a merchant of Antigua, shipped to Kittery Point five negroes, consigned to the firm of Pepperrells. He received the following answer, dated June 25, 1719:

Sir,—I received yours by Captain Morris, with bills of lading for five negroes and one hogshead of rum. One negro woman, marked Y on the left breast, died in about three weeks after her arrival, in spite of medical aid which I procured. All the rest died at sea. I am sorry for your loss. It may have resulted from deficient clothing so early in the spring.

Colby, Fred M.,
"The First American Baronet," Potter's American Weekly (Vols. 16-17, 1881), pg. 235


He [Pepperrell] also dealt to some extent in slaves, thus laying the foundation in New England of that system which has proved such a bane to the South. In one of his letters—a large number of which have been preserved—he refers to the traffic in such a way as to show the purely mercantile way in which he regarded it:


SIR : I received yours by Captain Morris, with bills of lading for ten negroes and twenty hogsheads of rum. One negro woman, marked Y on the left breast, died in about three weeks after her arrival, in spite of medical aid, which I procured. Two of the others died at sea. I am sorry for your loss. It may have resulted from insufficient clothing so early in the spring.



Weather had a name

Sandy

the night had a name

Monday, October 29, 2012


I stumbled over

your death in my room


in a pool of light,

a borrowed book. had a name

Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America


Shroud as sheet

of paper. Sixty-eight

(sixty-nine?) word scrap.


Barely enough to cover one body

less five


(ten?) You have a name

Who carried your name, passed it on

weren't alone on the ship


that Death roamed

obsessed


with arithmetic (for in long


voyages, diseases grow at sea, and take away

many passengers1). Five,

1Ligon, Richard, A True & Exact History

of the Island of Barbadoes (1673), pg. 21

(ten?) See


that tiny number has a name

footnote

hovered at the end of a thought?


There are writers who would have me believe

it's a fly


buzzing at the foot of a corpse.


Just shoo it away.


Just shoo it away

makes thought more alive


they say—So what


if an end goes dead,

a trail


cold? (five?

ten?) No. No,


footnote is bread,


is one

in the trail of crumbs


leading statement back to source.


Other days, it's the key

to a lock


opening an archive door.


Where's the letter written within sight

of your


last breath?


(five?

ten?)


Who played fast and loose, numbering souls?

Appendix 1:
Opening the Archive Doors


Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH


The gloves come out.

The gloves go on.

Someone stirs


up Christmas two stories down.

Someone plays


Cat's Cradle with tangles of ink


criminally slipped from archival sleeves : Letters

the consistency of torn


crumpled napkins : Words


folded in on themselves.


I spent all afternoon with a box

Pepperrell Collection (MS093)

full of mutterings,


with what I'd give

what I'd give


to hear you in its thoughts,


even thoughts ripped in half

mid-meaning.


*


New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, MA


For days, I was lost in its forest of old

English oaks, massive canopies


blotting out the sun.


Huddled beneath them : People coiling blood

in long

unbroken ropes.


People boosting their dead up

in the branches—


Family trees fruited with ripen, with rot.


I worked my way down to the dock—


women getting their sea legs on the Mayflower's deck,


men trying to strike up a chat

with John Winthrop,


convince him to make room for their ancestors

onboard his ship.


I was asking for you, but the silence was deafening :


drowned out by a crowd

drunk on blue blood,


the slosh of it

staining


one page

Mss 948, Box 1, Sub Group II

Series D, Correspondence

two men dragged you to,

William Pepperrells

dropped you

1719-1721 SALS

unburied—


my mind kneels

over crumbling


ink, unknots words,

ye Negros yo Sent pr Morris wch died

words—not

ankles,

wrists,


you

aren't playing

the damsel in distress :


America's Sweetheart in black

&


white movies


tied to railroad tracks. Bound to a page


doesn't mean

that you're waiting


for the hat

the horse

the hero


to ride in : white, white, white.


*


Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME


In Collection 420, Box 8/36


this : 26th Day of May

Anno Domini Thous. Seven hundred & Eightteen


what passes for hope


that you didn't die

alone—


One Negro Man Aged about Thirty five years ;

called by ye name of Seasor ;

Given, Granted, Bargained & Sold

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

I'm yours

unto Willm Pepperrell his heirs & Assigns

To have & to Hold

till death do us part

for Ever

for Ever

for Ever a hope


so fragile

it can no longer be

touched,


was Xeroxed once, what's

in my hands now :


a copy of

a copy of

a copy of

a copy…


To have

a faint hope

till death does its part

& to Hold


that in a house that still stands,

under at least one set of eyes,


you weren't seen

as a piece


of dying merchandise.



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