Two Byrds

From the diary of William Byrd II,
Virginia slave plantation owner.

APRIL 7, 1709 :
I rose before 6 o’clock
and read two chapters
in Hebrew and 250 verses
in Homer’s Odyssey
and made an end of it.
I said my prayers devoutly.
I ate milk for breakfast.
I danced my dance.
The men began to work
this day to dig for brick.
I settled my accounts
and read Italian.
I reproached my wife

September 3, 1709:
I ate roast chicken for dinner.
In the afternoon I beat Jenny
for throwing water on the couch.

October 6:
I rose at 6 o’clock and said my prayers
and ate milk for breakfast.
Then I proceeded to Williamsburg,
where I found all well.
I went to the capitol
where I sent for the wench to clean
my room and when I came I kissed her
and felt her, for which God forgive me. . . .
About 10 o’clock I went to my lodgings.

I had good health but wicked thoughts,
God forgive me.

December 1, 1709:
Eugene was whipped again
for pissing in bed and Jenny
for concealing it.

December 3, 1709:
Eugene pissed abed again
for which I made him
drink a pint of piss.


James Byrd Jr.
June 7, 1998

This is the only day
for which I will be
re membered.

No one will recall what I ate
or if I read the newspaper,
but they will imagine
what I prayed for, to which God
I howled sanctuary in the night.

In all the 49 springs of my living
I did not betray the kindness
of strangers, even those who
wore the skin of my forbearer’s
brutal masters. God forgive me.

Maybe I hoped after they beat me
and doused me with a pint of piss
that it would end there.
The blade’s ragged teeth said otherwise.
Jasper, the ugly ghost.
White sheet with eye holes.

They strung me to their pickup in the image
of the hanged man.
I became Osiris, seven pieces
of immortality: the teeth flung from mouth,
each leg which could not run,
hands which would never again toil,
arms unable to cradle children safe,
proud chest at the cemetery gates,
skull with my brain in tact.

When I slipped away, I was glad
to lose memory, to only have to live
this dying once.

A wicked thought.
God forgive me.

Copyright © 2015 by Casey Rocheteau. Used with permission of the author.