por Stephen Eric Berry*
Dear Miss Dickinson,
Thank you for your last transmission – or should I call it a confessional? As I speak to you from a distance of 3.47 parsecs, I can't stop obsessing over how I'm going to have to wait another 22 years to hear your voice again.
Last night I dreamed about time. The dream's "myself" was bent on completing miniscule, everyday tasks with such absurd precision that time threw tantrums of acceleration. The hands of clocks spun into smudges. Disappeared. Tying my shoes, for example, took over one-thousand steps. Weighing in at 289 steps, the act of adjusting my collar seemed like a freebie. Corpsed after getting one shoe tied, I wandered the streets of Amherst. You would not recognize the place. Ground everywhere suffocated under sheets of Vesuvian grit smoothed into gray crust. Tourists loaded up with Dickinson shopping bags veered wide arcs around me, spinning into chirpy falsetto smoke. I arrived at your old house – not the one you loved on West Street but the creepy one. The one that killed your mother. I fell asleep in the garden. They've turned the place into a museum, complete with a headless and handless effigy of you clad in a replica of your mother-of-pearl house dress. Your bedroom is full of tourists gushing over the rose wallpaper and sleigh bed. And you, she, it, the phantom-effigy floats over the pine floor in comatose splendor. Across the hall in Vinnie's room, your fans crowd inside to play a Dickinson poem game installed in the wall. A circus crossed with an opiated taffy pull, the overflow crowd heads for your sister-in-law Sue's Italian Alps next door. Downstairs they sell postcards and "I'm Nobody" tee-shirts for $19.95. Everyone wants to play the piano, but it's roped off. A frazzled-looking woman gets up in my face, demanding I purge myself from the Sweet Williams. Fleeing sirens, I veer into the woods. But something seems off. I turn around and the phantom-effigy is following me, jerking along on its sorry gray felt pedestal. Behind the phantom is a trail of snapped ferns on fire. I approach her. The neck of the ghoul is twitching, as if she wants to direct my gaze to her dress pocket. I reach in and draw out a disarticulated envelope; it smells like ginger and molasses. The loopy bird-scratching reads: "Burn down the house." On the back side it trails off with: "First the contraption – then the Dress – then the House and all the [...]"
MISS DICKINSON IMPROVISES AT THE PIANO
When you play, a vein
in the middle of your forehead
reddens and coils under
a chestnut burr. Color of your eyes
more than a sherry stain
in a party glass at Sue's, way
more. Like ravenstones
the hammers rise and tremor,
just before they fall. You
kick off your slippers, curl
your toes into Carlo's plush as if
descending a steep copse trail
under blue mimosa, past
the wizened eyes of geckos
sun themselves above
a roaming semblance of shore.
Erectile casabas burgeon
with rainwater. Quavers.
A peacock struts from behind
an oleander bush as you soar
the orange ice veins of Titan.
Thank you for listening to my poems. (Perhaps the three hopefuls included here will be an improvement.) Sad to think that Colonel Higginson – after all those years of writing to you, all those allegiances shifting between condescending formalism and bewilderment – never once expressed a desire to hear you breathe your own work. Pour it out. In person. Aloud. Electric. To hear you fly the courses of untamed blue moccasins. And to sit right in your parlor, nibbling on your cookies, drinking your tea, and doesn't think to ask. Shame on him. While any waste he scattered to paper instantly went to press. Has all that much changed? Long after you found yourself in a flyless room on a windless day, he finds his road to Damascus. No bloodfan engine buzzing the window, no palps happily extended. Every antenna within you tuned to the Silent Town. Anvils creaking the stairs are visitors already white dots on a ribbon for the Great Unveiling. Six o'clock whistle about to blow. And brown bottles on a tray. Tinctures. Choir practice in the air from the church across the street. And to be you. To be Cape Jasmine in a night shirt orbited by wild billows. To be you and fine and freed of all those ghastly, spiked leather-corset faces. Cut free of that long-sutured kite tail of poems no one in the 19th-century, except perhaps Helen Hunt Jackson, understood anyway. And the whistle blows without you and you are done with this selva oscura. Your Boschian yellow contrail across the prowls of a newborn sea. Midnight to the north, midnight to the south, blue doves wheel the Drift of an Eastern Gray.
Your heart is a slaughterhouse,
a fever-towered wood encysted
with parapets. Crazed monkeys
poop down bearded vines
pumping torrid slobbers of red.
In crowd the curl-tailed conventions
to Mantovani candlelight strings.
The turnstile cranks. "Step right in,"
say the soft electric clampers.
Pump the charge. Light the spasms.
Founder the beast. Foot the loop
and up swings the jugular spout –
the smiling murder you call a line.
I picture you swimming the lap pool running the length of the Zeppelin Electrapis, your floating greenhouse 50 kilometers above Ross 128-B. Cloud decks a howling gale of sulfuric acid, carbon hull thrumming, and still steady as she goes. I see your loosened freestyle fingers rise and fall past lilies, jasmine, heliotrope, ghostly Indian Pipe. Your bloom strokes through what could be a wild meadow in the Pelham Hills, now pressed into a long page – your Ramble of Evermore under a mantilla of purple mist. I see the raving chrysolite maiden world below: dome fields, curtains of ejecta, scarscapes of fuming liver-browns roped with crimson. Those perfect nights of soft lead to paper, black currant wine, and your telescope. And trillions of years after our sun explodes the neighborhood, your gentle red dwarf star will still be a teenager.
THE CROOKING WAY
Make it 3:30 in the morning
and river the white oak with wind.
Listen to the music of Vinnie snoring,
exhaustion a sister's dearest friend
after the death of her dappled cat,
who now rests across the street
in a bettered hole of barley worms.
There a new bird assassin
stalks a somersaulting playbill
for Miss Adelina, the Lion Queen.
Vinnie's breakers rise and fall
on silver fairgrounds of the moon.
Scritch and scratch, a birdfoot
circuit voiced in cherrywood,
you write as your sister breathes –
in chortles, iambs, interruptions,
trochees, sudden crocus from rock.
A compass with a restless needle
is the circle of steel in your chest,
what rides an ecliptic breeze.
Yours, forever a crooking path
loathes all roads, taken or not,
for long bends of undergrowth –
nettled shins the crooking way.
Now – to reach across chill Swarms of Nought – for your hand. Your scholar,
Stephen Eric Berry
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STEPHEN ERIC BERRY é escritor, cineasta e compositor americano radicado em Chelsea, Michigan. Prêmio Jule and Avery Hopwood da Universidade de Michigan, publicou trabalhos na Tampa Review, Puerto del Sol, California Quarterly, World Literature Today e outras. Em 2017 recebeu bolsa do National Endowment for the Humanities para uma série de workshops sobre Emily Dickinson no Amherst College. Em 2017, seu filme Clogged Only With Music, Like The Wheels of Birds foi exibido no encontro anual da Emily Dickinson International Society, e em 2019 apresentou-se na Sessão Emily Dickinson da MLA.