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‘Their letters’

 1st May 1610

Her letter

is pressed from flour-damp breast to Judas-hand Joanna, hides in spinster folds to pass the Hall, makes its way first to lips then nose, Peter eager for the hard-worked scent of her, his Rose with lush, wide petals and soft sticky buds, last pinched and tipped on Hollyn Hill St George’s Day past, under the crab apple and in sudden view of big John Beale, his face a ruddy fluster, his mouth a sour benediction recocked to testimony after.  Her letter brings an intake of delight, a crotch twitch of sweet slickness full remembered, invites him to visit her indoors, her husband Nicholas off to Lincoln at short call, her window open 10 o’clock this night, and she will take him in.


6th May 1610

His letter

travels safe to Bilsthorpe with trusted Thomas, firm downward strokes on stiff white parchment vowing more than she could dream, trapped in this loveless for six cold years, her husband good for canny trade elsewhere except in bed, a man of stolid hopes and shuttered heart.  His letter teases with dotted i’s and double crossed t’s, flushes hot tongue thoughts of curls and thighs until her forehead pounds, leant hard against the larder door. His letter pleads to risk again, to meet him outside her house tonight when the moon averts so not to be complicit in their sin.  His letter in its supple roll enfolds their last two near escapes and tightens them to nothing, her sweaty fingers toying with the ribbon, willing to believe.


 11th July 1610

Her husband’s statement

is a blackened growl of grudged restraint, a tamping down of what would be invective if the form had given room, if the Magister had asked for more than fact, more than witnesses had proffered as they lined to spew their sordids into village rumour pots.  Her husband’s statement tells he found their letters (the shame), had them followed (the scandal), offered battle for his name (the honour), turned down money for his wife (the strumpet), would not countenance divorce (the defeat).  Her husband’s statement spikes the good brown paper with each ink jab, though why the scribe is angered by dictation lies unrecorded, her husband never having learned to read or write, guessed instead their letters meant no good, hidden as they were inside the corn crock, smeared by too much touching, her round, white body heat, the smell of inner thigh when she wore them like a trophy beneath her skirts.






Di Slaney’s poems have been appearing widely in magazines and anthologies as well as being shortlisted in a range of poetry competitions, including the Bridport Prize. She recently won first prize in the inaugural Brittle Star Writing Competition. She runs a marketing business and co-owns Candlestick Press.  ‘Their letters’ was written in response to an exercise on John Clegg’s Mythopoesis course, where students were encouraged to personify the inanimate, in this case the letters of illicit lovers discovered as part of The Laxton Transcripts, which documented a Jacobean trial for adultery, Walker v. Roos. ‘Their letters’ will appear in Issue 58 of The Interpreter’s House.

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Image Credits:

Image: Cover of the pamphlet “The Witches of Northampton” showing three witches riding on a sow, published after the Northamptonshire witch trials (1612)

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons