The force of her own gift alone drove her to it…
who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s
heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?
—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
My brother was a talented man. 38 plays, 154 sonnets,
4 long narrative poems and a threnody on the death of
chaste lovers, all with a little Latin and less Greek—well.
A genius in his own time, surely.
But his appetite burned a hole in our family’s pockets, he
wouldn’t sew gloves, wouldn’t apprentice to the new
bailiff, just scribbled, then was gone to London. We
weren’t foolish—there was nowhere else for him, and
nothing for it but to follow.
Will made enough in London to carouse, but sent no
coin home. Our father snored beneath the alehouse
table, too drunk to oppose what Ann and I concocted by
the fire one cold night, the children hungry in their
beds. I, being more than common tall, attired myself on
all points as a man and set out. I crossed Clopton Bridge
on a cold St. George’s Day, my brother’s 25th feast-day. I
found him face down, feasting on a puddle of his own
spew, nothing new in that.
No longer a woman, I didn’t clean and coddle him, but
booted his backside like the dog he was and swore on
his children’s eyes that he’d send money home if I had to
sell his body as a rent boy. I locked him in his shabby
rooms, kept the key in my fist, and he wrote three plays
a year. Some were good. People started to notice. An Earl
commissioned some sonnets, offered gold for my dark
hair sketched into my brother’s verse. Money was
money. My namesake niece in Stratford grew tall enough
to preen and call herself Judith.
My brother was a talented man. But for me, who never
again wore a dress, who played manager for twenty
years, his greatest feat lay in how he turned our family
fortunes, our green and yellow melancholy, into the
great Globe itself. A person, to write, needs a room of
one’s own. A door that locks. Someone to hold the key.
from Holding Ground
by Tanis MacDonald