Apartment Poetry Quarterly

5A              5B              5C              5D              5E              5F


5E Susan Tichy


An excerpt from


For/to/because of Alexander Magruder
b. Perthshire, Scotland, 1610
transported 1652
d. Maryland, 1677


Be it kent by all men     of the jewells and silver
the kye young and old and the wild mares
honor, not conscience
shame, not guilt

word mislaid in the desk’s clutter

by other names     recklessness
an ink but slightly darker than the page

1858: manumission made illegal in Maryland, but with already a free population nearly as large as that enslaved, the two intermarried, inter-layered: seek them in the pages of a century of laws. Requiring free blacks to leave the state, to hire out where told, to apprentice their children by age four. Declaring them—like the 16th and 17th century displaced English poor—vagrant if they refused. Sentencing vagrants to bondage. Forbidding blacks from trafficking—in bacon, pork, beef, mutton, corn, wheat, tobacco, rye or oats. Couldn't own guns or booze or dogs. Couldn't operate boats. Couldn’t read, though half did. And could be sold, if the person who had freed them went bankrupt. 1858: attempts to re-enslave them—75,000 free men and women—to define them as abandoned property, subject to seizure—just as a cart, abandoned on a public roadway, would devolve upon authorities for safe disposal. Laws against gypsies. Laws against whistling. Tinted freedom in somber shade. This devilish difficulty. Of liquidating slave property without creating freed slaves.




If I hesitate, it comes to meet
earthed syllable     bad footing here
in distance from the moment to the word
accent depressed or snatchèd up
into immoderate fantasy

One lampe of licht     indigenous
defeated once, it reappears
as weapon

Household #555: Ellen Henson, free black servant, literate. Household #556: Ann & Wm Wedge, mulattos, literate. Household #454: Eliza McGregor, 40 years, white, in household with Wm & S.T. Wedge, three generations, free mulattos, literate. Household #1184: Peter & Matilda Magruder, free Negroes, trade unknown, 60 and 65 years old, literate. He, freed in the last ten years. She, by birth a Henson. Household #1182: Henson Magruder, black man, 20, literate. Household #90: C. Magruder, black woman, servant in a merchant’s house, 30 years old, literate. Household #96, Second Series, A. Maguder, free black man, 45, 2 children and his wife, Mary Bowling, literate. Household #95: Andrew Magruder and his wife H., literate.

Literate meant: able to write one’s name




Clem, my blacksmith
Nanny, my servant
my capenter, Old Basil,
& Ester Mullen his wife
my carpenter, Young Basil
and Sukey, his wife
William Bowie & Matilda his wife
with three of their children—not Junior, not Jack
for $20 frees Susan Dodson
for $280 sells Joseph Mullen to Basil Mullen
sells Dolly Mullen to Basil Mullen
sells Deborah Digges to Basil Mullen
frees George Gray, William Gray, Silvester
Manuel, Henry, and Susan Dodson
Richard, James & Charity
to serve 18 years and then be free
serve 32 years and then be free
Lucy Gray, Toby Gray
youngest child of the said Lucy
George Gray, Bill Gray, William Woods
Josephine and Josephine’s children
Martha and (two lines later) Martha’s children
frees Lewis Taylor, frees Sam Gantt
one half of a house to Sam & George
one half to the children of M & J
frees Frederick Taylor
frees Thomas Nichols
no further mention and no provision
for Alexander, my negro boy




1861: by accident, contiguity to free states, Maryland became an ambiguous ally of Union. 1864: Emancipation, passed by a petulant State Assembly. And o god the shame of it. Not even a stump to stand on, and the dollar’s rash exactitude: land without labor: worth less than a good cow. 1867: Judge Daniel Randall Magruder indicted by the Freedman’s Bureau for sentencing black prisoners, without trial, to term slavery on Maryland farms. A privilege withheld from whites, wrote the governor in Magruder’s defense. For theft of a one-dollar pocket-book, a three-dollar pig, a five-dollar beehive, a $25 lot of tobacco: rotting corpse of slavery exhumed—clarsach, corbel, a human head—and freedom of this world a trifle compared with when the Cross shall maketh free.

Night journey on foot     gospel commences
asymmetrically disposed
by clan rigor, intricate path
nearly concealed or passing into
white hood lined with plaidie

Woe to the wretch who fails to rear
At this dread sign     eternity
salt trafficke     twisted path
of rethorike that found the flouris faire

To my sons and daughters, Negroes

black verger     passive voice
That his deeds may be made manifest
take name of him who enslaved you




Then prove ye Ruin of a Country
crows in the oak and a loud excursion
one hawk hunched in a pine

Almost the center of all direction
vulgar idiom     a bit
of worm that ate ships’ hulls

Not a Southern state, my mother said
—just an X between two stanzas—

unarrived, unknown, unnamed
And violent waves shattering

A placeing of them     where it is pretended
sawn asunder, tempted, slain

or suddenly from an ambuscade

condensed to scattered footprints     walls
rectangular     a script

In the first law of Heaven and Earth
there is no such thing as a noncombatant

Vault center     bats at dusk

If the dog barks again, wake me




Baltimore, 1967, the annual gathering of the American Clan Gregor Society, flawed only by the unpracticed hands of office staff called in to serve the Saturday banquet—climax of the weekend, evening dress only—when the regular wait-staff go on strike. My father, who will later remind me of this night, assumes it’s a union problem, but doesn’t ask. He’s not a Magruder, though married to one, and holds no sway. Jump to 1976, and my father, handsome in his new kilt, has been running the Gathering for four years. In the cocktail hour before the banquet, he’s checking details, admiring the centerpieces, the flags, and the large banner of the Fiery Cross, hung, as always, behind the head table. But there’s a wee problem. The wait-staff, all black, refuse to work in the banquet hall so long as that banner is there. My father asks to speak to them, and with (I am sure) great charm and tact, explains the history of the Fiery Cross, its legendary use as a symbol to call the clan to arms—men running picturesquely over the heather, house to house and glen to glen, carrying hand-sized pitch-pine torches in the shape of a double-armed cross. See? It’s there on the banquet program, too, above a few lines from Sir Walter Scott. Nothing at all to do with the KKK. He is sure of this, and sure that his explanation has put their minds at ease. Nevertheless, he takes down the banner, mentions it to no one; and neither at the banquet nor afterwards does anyone remark on its absence. My father runs the Gatherings for more than twenty years, and the banner is never seen again.





NIGHT orders are not good and these were mine: ane sword and oak tree crossit beneath ane crowne. Hounds interlace like ribbons down the edge of an empty page, whose absent figure shapes the tale. Bedtime story, hero of first. O water-crossing, water wide, who can measure, who sail o’er such froward, couthie, lawless, vast dis-levelment?

then build me a boat that can carry two
provocateur     or provenance
my ink-black ship     disquietude
my now quaint similitude

For a’ the blood that’s shed on earth
Runs through the springs o thát countríe

cluster of huts     in a wilding marked
for beggarte and extinction

in ballad method, wayward wood
internal refrain     or wakening

His metir swete, he maketh joy—

Difficult is sanctuary

[cannot write beautiful lines here
presence     odd hurdle




twenty lines of attempt and a cheap knife
my tutor missplls to protect the Name
cut margins     discoloration
intersect the spaces

contradiction from which an exit becomes
space above pillars     the very place

rest     escape     immaculate
intermarried in me

All endit was my innocence
for whiche though I in purpose at my booke

Literate means     I can write this name
any contract so signed is binding

then how track     past prurient

through bays of darkening     and sleep
a laced ecstatic green of shallow seas

ink net     where once desire
rifted by     refugium

that only one's own body can be possessed




Black Magruder, wash this verb

in clan rigor     crest of a wave
vagility     unattested

still to go upon the hethe
a swallow’s turn     turns in mid-air
to heft

And it’s I will do for my love’s sake
What many a lady will not do

Ink very black, this waukrife hour
Disturbance of commodity

With fornication     genuine death
uppon a quiet company of words