Dickinson the Series
Recently, I learned I have three free months of Apple TV, and one night, as I had just finished bossing Jesse to set it up, everyone in my family gathered ’round and shouted, “TED LASSO!”
I grabbed the remote, pointed it toward my family — whom I adore — and clicked it at them as if to turn them off.
“Dickinson,” I said, thus clearing the room.
I plopped myself on the couch, put a bowl of popcorn on my lap, and clicked play.
The show is creative nonfiction, and some may say it’s more creative than it is nonfiction, but that’s fine with me. I like thinking about what could be true, especially when it comes to Emily Dickinson, who’s often presented as a weak waif-like ghost of a recluse, someone who’s too sensitive for life and must turn to poetry to, (gasp!), bear it all.
This Emily is bold and mischievous. She makes writing poetry look valiant and sassy. This Emily makes me feel great about myself. This Emily makes me curious about not just what could be true, but what is true.
The premise is essentially an exploration of how her poems came to be. Each episode takes one of Emily’s poems and sets a story around it. I’m enjoying learning her poetry as much as I am watching the show. And maybe this is true of all poetry, but it’s been fun to consider Emily’s pieces like secret messages, or codes. Usually I read poetry for an anchoring image, or for a sense that is evoked. I rarely think of what it all could mean.
But, like all good stories, the show has taken me somewhere, and so I thought I’d try to find some meaning in one of Emily’s poems. September’s theme this month at Tweetspeak is foxes and felines, so I Googled, “fox poem Emily D” and here is what I found:
Distance – is not the Realm of Fox
Nor by Relay of Bird
Abated – Distance is
until thyself, Beloved.
I know nothing about this poem except the year Dickinson wrote it, and that she wrote it for her sister-in-law, Susan. I didn’t do any research but tried to attend to the truth of Emily’s poem.
I looked up the definitions for realm, relay, and abated to see if I could knock something loose. It seems Emily is exploring how distance feels. Neither the fields a fox explores nor the air a bird soars through can become less intense the longer they search. Every day they must live the questions: How long? How far?
I was stumped by the word until, so I looked up its definition too. It didn’t make sense until I learned the Middle English version: “as far as.” Replacing “until” with this phrase sounds like this:
as far as thyself, Beloved.
Like the fox and the bird, Emily will always know distance, no matter how close her Beloved is.
The story goes that Susan was Emily’s best friend before she was her sister-in-law. The story also goes that the two were in love with each other. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know the distance that is felt when best friends are launched into a new world and the other can’t come along.
I’ll never forget the night before I left for college. I was with my best from high school, Celena. Everything was great and rowdy fun until the night ended, and Celena looked at me and said, “Okay.”
I burst into tears as though I’d sneezed. She followed suit, and we clung together as if to suffocate that distance. The everyday moments that made a best friendship slipped into the air with the fireflies.
“It’s just something we have to do,” Celena sobbed into my shoulder.
“I know,” I sobbed back.
It’s a vivid memory, and one I feel vulnerable remembering. I’m not one to show how I feel for someone else publicly. It’s much easier to do that in my writing.
Perhaps Emily felt the same way.
This week, write a secret message poem to your best friend or other such Beloved. The trick, though, is to make it universal, so that the rest of us might — gasp! — bear it, too.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Katie that we enjoyed:
shall I compose lines
upon the hammock or deck
so pleasant to hear bird song,
wind chime, swaying leafy branches
to see a plethora of flowers,
canopy of green with baby blue beyond
to feel the summer breeze caress my face
while I play with words
checking chore list, yes:
read EDP, read TSP post
okaaaay allllready . . .
time to write
Browse other poetry prompts