Objectifying Emily Dickinson
And so, let us gift Emily a brand and a compelling backstory so we may all the more easily tack her up on the wall, subject her to our adoring gaze, or pin her to a board, like a monarch whose outspread wings retain traces of powder under glass.
Let us paste every adjective with a strong glue gun to be sure it sticks —
Let us say, she was — multiple choice answers will be accepted —
an autistic-savant flummoxed by loud society who found security in her own company
traumatized by a gaslighting father
undermined by a passive mother
emotionally obsessed by a bewitching sister-in-law
abused by a shadow-assailant who took her by force, poisoning her tender self as half-brother George would do to Virginia
Let us say, we know her through and through, know her too well, or not as well as we’d like, or about as well as we ever will,
barring the miraculous recovery of a long-buried attic manuscript, in which she explicates the inner workings of her brain, with diagrams, along with — bonus material — a chart revealing her scheme of punctuation.
Or let us be honest, for once, and admit that time and foolscap and squinty-eyed scholarship do not admit us — much as we long to grasp keys to a magic kingdom — into the soul of a human being who
before she lay a heap of crumbling bones, as she always knew she would,
drew looping scritches of ink on scraps of paper,
telling us all we ever would or could or should want to know.
Poet and cipher Emily Dickinson’s 191st birthday is on December 10, 2021.
I have read more about her than the poetry itself. Her life is a poem that demands to be read repeatedly, for it is open to endless interpretation.