Partial Abecedarian of Life Insurances Taken Out for Slaves

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Adam, steamboat hand for his master Garland Good in Mobile, AL
Amanda, housegirl of Charles Meyer in St. Francis, MO
Augustus, cabin boy to Robert Bell and Monroe Quarrier in Louisville, KY
Bill, mill worker of Richard Bradley in Savannah, GA
Camilla, seamstress of Charless Platt in Augusta, GA
Damon, distillery worker for Benjamin Hallett in Wilmington, NC
Dick, coach maker for De Loache & Wilcosson in Macon, GA
Edmund, blacksmith for Barton Morris in Richmond, VA
Emeline, cook for Sterling Grimes in Columbus, GA
Frank, blacksmith for Jeremiah King in Edisto Island, SC
George, steamboat waiter for Catharine Harper in Lexington, KY
Harry, miner for Nicholas Mills in Chesterfield County, VA
Isabel, washer and ironer for R. Hamilton Owen in Mobile, AL
Jack, wheelwright for William Dewar in Augusta, GA
Kelly, ___ for Frederick Swann in Wilmington, NC
Lilas a.k.a. Silas, farmer, timber gatherer, and fisher for John Hman in Martin County, NC
Martha, ___ for Herman Kenneyworth in Wilcox, AL
Nearest, ___ for John W. Collins in Spotsylvania, VA
Ovid, ___ for John Wooster in Wilmington, NC
Pleasant, blacksmith for Higginson Hancock in Chesterfield County, VA
Rebecca, ___ for Lewis C. Robards in Fayette, KY
Sampson, penman in stream sawmill for W. Lord in Wilmington, NC
Theodore, ___ for John J. Bruce in Fayette, KY
Vincent, fireman for William Hancock in Henderson County, KY
Washington, mason apprentice for James Millman in Wilmington, NC
Zach, fireman for Monroe Quarrier in Louisville, KY

( source text )

A Short History of Oysters on the Eastern Shore

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
What we lack of information, we frame
               as conjecture. Imagine 

              how puzzle pieces fit
together or not at all, how a missing space
             can have the sheen on the inside 

of an oyster shell. It takes work, 
            even skill, to pry them open—

The waters salt them by degrees, leach
           the taste of a place into them. Once, 

so many covered these beaches
           like craggy pelt, like dragon scales
before hunger overtook itself. 

Hog Island

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
The sun dips beneath a horizon of barrier
islands, marshes filled with traces 
of the winged and wild-footed.

Skimmers in spring, migrants
wheeling toward the salt of other seasons.

On one side, the water; on the other,
the land—acres that yielded corn, tobacco,
barley, cotton. And where 

are the quail that loved
fields of castor bean, that thrashed

in the wake of rifle fire? This
time of year, everything in the landscape tints
to the color of bronze and rust, registry pages

inked in sepia with names and weights;
the worth of indentured bodies. Palimpsest

means the canvas we see 
floats on a geology of other layers—
sedimenting until the sea works loose

what it petrifies in salts and lye, what it 
preserves for an afterhistory with no guarantee.

The Dreaming

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

That’s the place where strawberries grow,
and pole beans which bear its name.
Lowlanders still exclaim over carrots
thick as their wrists, how they are sweet
as though someone had added sugar
to the dish. Abundance salts the soil
with a profusion of moss and phaleanopsis,
carves first row seats along the cliffs
so the dead watch our daily processions.
You would never run out of scarves that fog
fashions as if out of nothing, the jeweled tarot
of fowl dripping into a basin. Perhaps I am,
again, making too much of this country of dreams.
Or perhaps the dream has not stopped dreaming.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
What we do so the tree conserves its stores inward—
before winter, or right at the end; which is to say, in almost 
spring. Meanwhile, in a pot on the corner of the deck, 
the citrus plant named after a part of the Buddha's anatomy
sports new spikes. It has never flowered. But if you crush
a leaf and hold it under your nose, it gives you a hot, 
dry day in summer in the middle of a lemon grove. 
You also believe we carry such largeness inside us, 
though we are clumsy. And fear scrunches our shoulders 
together, drives us to panic buy toilet paper and eggs 
though the world has never not always been ending.
Because of this, we listen in the night for the sound 
of each other breathing, for the way leaves rustle
and overlap like shingles but remain translucent.

Making Snow Skin Mooncakes

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Here are my palms, dusted 
with flour, meeting the skin of dough 

protected in a film of oil. I am supposed 
to weigh each piece for consistency,

which means a condition one can count on, 
as well as the texture and heft of a thing. 

Even as I fill each mold with a ball of sweet
custard, the skin waits to completely enrobe it.

I pinch the seams together and tuck them 
under, then push gently with my fingers.

Each face holds against the stamp only a firm
moment—wound, brand, letter to the future.



river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting,  A month in the hospital
and she's rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling 
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered 
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own 
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still 
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste 
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once, 
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse 
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside 
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start 
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light. 

The Hand Doctor

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Asked to put my hands on the edge of the table, it feels 
almost like I'm about to play the piano. But it's been years
since I practiced scales or arpeggios. And the knuckle joint 
of the middle finger of my right hand has been swollen for two 
weeks; it's so stiff it can hardly bend. While the hand doctor
inquires about any injuries at work or sports, I imagine the row
of felt-covered mallets on strings, the soundboard richly
amplifying interior sound, just like both pain and joy
when they fall down and call from the interior of a well. 
I think I envy the hand doctor a little—he says curl 
your hand into a fist, thumb pointing out; or slowly unfurl
the fingers. It's as if he can make everything in the world 
concentrate in this small space. Cupped hands make
a valley; and underneath, the little bones knit and sigh.

No Answers

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Last night I cried myself to sleep 
again; I surrendered to the impossible 
helplessness of having no good answers 
for the problems of the world. No, 
not the world—but not even my own. 
I don't know what the wind is threading 
through the reeds, or what the river 
might be thinking about territory, about  
what lasts. Across the stump of an old oak 
hewn down five years ago, a screen of holly 
and ivy has begun to emerge. Nothing 
is intimate or everything is intimate and we
are all climbing a trellis thin as spider silk, 
more opaque than ordinary light.  


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Koi in the Japanese gardens; children with bright
       rubber floats in the pool at the Y,  older men
and women walking from one shallow end
      to the other for exercise—I never learned 
to swim, growing up in the mountains where 
      there were pools only in country clubs and hotels. 
How buoyant all these bodies are, how effortlessly 
      the waters part at their approach, enveloping all 
in damp clouds smelling cleanly of chlorine and tile. 
      I've always dreamed of giving myself up to such
buoyancy, that ribbon-pull somewhere out of your side 
     or from your feet mostly planted on a solid surface: 
and then you're lofted on the skin of water, face turned
     up as if expecting to be touched only by softness.