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