Trafficke: An Autobiography

Trafficke: An Autobiography is a way of thinking about survival and power, including the power of literacy. Its story is that of one family from the 6th through the 19th centuries. It begins with the history and mythology of Clan Gregor, in the central Highlands of Scotland, who lost their lands and were persecuted almost to extinction by the more powerful Clan Campbell. The name MacGregor was proscribed in 1603: those who would not renounce it were hunted down and killed, or transported. The story then narrows to one man, Alexander McGruder (sometimes MacGregor, later Magruder), transported to Maryland in the 1650s
and sold into indenture.  At his death Alexander owned 2400 acres of what had been Indian land, and a single slave, named Sambo. He left his white descendants -- mostly tobacco farmers -- to twist and chafe the clan legends until they fit the culture of slavery. Trafficke concludes with glimpses of 19th century black Magruders, who, like the 6th century MacGregors, survive in our attention because they were literate.

I have called this work mixed-genre: nonfiction, poetry, and collage. Others have called it historical fiction. It is fiction to the extent that whatever we know about the past is collaged from scraps, and to the extent that the glue is our own need. Clan Gregor is especially tricky, bound up as it is with the literary origins of Romanticism in English--even MacPherson’s source texts for his semi-fabricated Ossianic poems were collected from oral tradition by 16th c. MacGregors. Facts being often mythologized in this case, claiming the story is factual doesn’t help much. 

Factuality is also an issue of Trafficke’s form. Words and phrases are a kind of aural fact, or image, affecting me physically as well as mentally, and those affects are part of what I know about my “subject”.  So, while collage is mimetic of the process of reading historical texts, equally important to me is that the phrases are actual survivors, conduits of sensual as well as narrative information. Trafficke has upwards of 200 sources, many of which show through and make noise in its pages. Making noise, even disruption, is a kind of narrative strategy. I take as one model the Scottish ballad, which, among other things, tells an often quite whopping story by means of mosaic, even sculptural effects, of repetition and intertextual
layerings -- leaping and lingering, moving and freezing. Words quoted share a similar paradox -- sometimes invisible, sometimes intransigently opaque. Shapeshifting through modern, archaic, Scots, and deviant spellings, they force our attention onto the physicality and temporality of language, while at the same time creating the idea of a transcendent word not dependent on any particular pronunciation or spelling. This seems to me intimately related to the question of what we can and cannot know of the past. And to what Scottish and Irish fiddlers say: that music--sound--is history spoken daily.

Trafficke is comprised of two long sections, “Proscribe” and “Heath,” concentrating,
respectively, on Scotland and Maryland. “Proscribe” and “Heath” each include a long mixed genre narrative/meditation plus one or more verse meditations. The book concludes with a short section of prose poems. Since pagination is significant even in the prose passages, I have formatted the manuscript approximately as it would appear in a 6x9 format. With notes appended it is 184 pages.

Trafficke: An Autobiography is now seeking a publisher.



"Song Book of the Pillagers," a section of "Proscribe," as published by The Literary Review in a special Scottish issue and republished on their web site.

The opening pages of "Old-Fields," a section of "Heath," as published by Phoebe & republished on the website of DCAC (The Washington, D.C., Arts Center).

"An Excerpt from Heath" (the remainder of "Old-Fields") as published by Green Mountains Review  in their Literary Ethnography issue & republished on their web site. Nominated by GMR for a Pushcart Prize in nonfiction. Part of this piece is available on line at

"An Excerpt from Heath" (a section now titled "In the Stranger's Land") as published by Quarter After Eight & republished on their web site. Winner of the QAE 1999 Prose Prize judged by Douglas Messerli.

"Transport" as published by The Indiana Review.