‘Three planets rise in transit…’

[The Keats Brothers to Richard Abbey/13 June 1816]

Three planets rise in transit, but their star
is someplace else, occulted and half-dreamt–
like money, childhood, a mother’s death.
What orbits can that x-ed out cipher
organize. What bright mold grows on debt,
compounded and shipped back
in lung, on air, on deck, bacterium
or barreled cash crop from the States, dream
of lossless compression, Pacific
health, a bud that will not fade.

It’s mid-June. Roses hide in petticoats
letters with brown signatures, presages
of decadence.  And now a livid star emerges
from the planets that concealed it.

–Joyelle McSweeney

Letter #2: The Keats Brothers to Richard Abbey, 13 June 1816

As students of Keats’s life and work quickly discover, financial issues loom large for the poet and his siblings for much of their lives. It’s perhaps fitting that one of the earliest letters (of a sort) concerns the fraught relationship between the Keats children and the trustee of their maternal grandparents’ estates, Richard Abbey. The text of the document, pictured below courtesy of Google Books, authorizes a payment from that estate.

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For a response to this brief note, we asked the poet Joyelle McSweeney for a poem inspired by it. Enjoy!