(August 5, 1950 / Illinois)

Getting and Spending

Isabella Whitney, The maner of her Wyll, 1573


We're told it was mostly the soul
at stake, its formal

setting-forth, as over water,
where, against all odds,

the words-on-paper make
a sort of currency, which heaven,

against all odds, accepts.
So Will, which is to say, May what

I purpose, please, this once, and what
will happen coincide.

To which the worldly
dispositions were mere after-thought:

your mother's ring and so forth. What
the law considered yours

to give. Which in the case of
women was restricted—this was

long ago, and elsewhere—so
that one confessedly "weak

of purse" might all the more
emphatically be thought of as having little

to say. Except about the soul. The late
disturbance in religion

having done that much, the each
for each responsible, even a servant,

even the poor. Wild, then—quite
beyond the pale—to hustle

the soul-part so hastily off
the page. And turn, our Isabella Whitney,

to the city and its faithlessness. Whose
smells and sounds—the hawker's cry,

the drainage ditch in Smithfield—all
the thick-laid, lovely, in-your-face-and-nostrils stuff

of getting-by no woman of even the slightest
affectation would profess to know,

much less to know so well.
As one would know the special places on

his body, were the passion merely personal.


Wattle and brickwork. Marble and mud.
The city's vast tautology. No city

without people and no people but
will long for what the city says they lack:

high ceilings, gloves and laces, news,
the hearth-lit circle of friendship, space

for solitude, enough to eat.
And something like a foothold in the whole-of-it,

some without-which-not, some
little but needful part in all the passing-

from-hand-to-hand of it, so
every time the bondsman racks his debtor or

the shoemaker hammers a nail or one un-
practiced girl imagines she

has prompted a look of wistfulness,
a piece of it is yours because

your seeing it has made it that much slower
to rejoin the blank

oblivion of never-having-
been. The year was fifteen hundred seventy-

three. The year of our Redeemer, as
they used to say. That other

circuit of always-in-your-
debt. From which she wrested, in her open

way of authorship, a world

not just of plenty but—and here's
the part of that's legacy—of love.

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