February 22, 2010

E.K. Mortenson

DREAMING OF EMILY DICKINSON

       I did again last night and when I told my wife she said,
“Are you, like, in love with her or something?” And I remembered a letter
              that Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote to his wife—he was a writer
       for the Atlantic Monthly to whom Emily would send her poems for comment—

              about the time he went to visit her and she talked so much and so fast
       that he wrote that he was glad that they didn’t live next door to her,
if you know what I mean. But then again, he wrote to that same wife

       when he was a colonel of, of all things, an all-black, South Carolinian,
Civil War regiment, that he didn’t see what all the fuss was about
              now that he was there, since it seemed clear that slaves didn’t mind
       being slaves since he rode by a field on his horse and saw a group of them singing.

              No one sings who is unhappy. Her selection of old Tommy Boy
       as a reader of her work is the only intellectual failing
I permanently charge Emily with. So, no, dear, I am not “in love with her

       or something,” because if that clown didn’t want to live next door to her,
I would never want to live with her. But I would like to visit her for tea.
              She’d brew it herself because they wouldn’t have bags and it would taste
       unusual and her house would smell like shortbread and fresh ferns

              and she’d talk and talk and move through the house like a bird
       and I’d try to ask questions like where those metaphors of hers come from
and, seriously, I won’t tell anyone, but what’s the deal with the dash

       and the capital letters? Do you, as I sometimes—like Every three Years Or so—
have to admit, in the absence of contrary evidence, just not get it? Not care?
              Do you compose in your head hearing so much of your hymnal
       that your rhythms are natural, like the way someone said

              that Shakespeare thought in iambic pentameter? Or when
       the Second Great Awakening popped its tents on the Amherst town green,
did you garden instead of get saved? But I never got a word in edgewise

       because she was busy with narrow fellows and broken planks
and frogs and flies and chariots and loaded guns and sifting sugar on the shortbread
              from a leaden sieve. Finally I broke in and asked, “Now Em,
       I know that your business is circumference, and that’s all fine and good,

              though no one I know gets that, but, um, do you ever let your hair down?
       I mean literally. Out of that bun?” For the first time she is struck dumb,
mouth slack. I rise from the small tea table in the parlor and approach her

       carefully. When I extend my hands past her head she gasps shortly
and closes her eyes as I pull the pins from her hair. It falls long and lustrous
              and auburn and I run my fingers through it, pulling it straight,
       keeping the top of her head from coming off.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009