Winter 02


Dickinson's Homestead




In Amherst the H is silent, and Edward
Dickinson everything "pure and terrible,"
Emily said of her Burglar-Banker Father,
That he stalked like Cromwell even to fetch
The kindling, if not her, then Lavinia, a homely
Red-haired pair, the poet wall-eyed,
Her confidante kid sister with the notorious
Mouth on her, a gardener and sly mutterer.
But when Emily's kidneys curled like cinders,
Lavinia burnt the letters and diaries,
While Mabel Todd, the star-gazer's wife,

Who'd literally serviced the Dickinsons'
Brother Austin on the dining room table,
Lavinia troweling the backyard irises
Or pruning the shield of cedars out front,
Emily upstairs in her dingy wedding gown,
Tending to her embroidery, grinning idiotically,
As under the eager weight of those pigs
The four-legged table, like a wooden horse,
Grunted and galloped across the floor—Mabel
Saved Emily's cryptic and concise poetry.
William Austin Dickinson was a bully,

A Norcross like his beautiful mother,
With cheekbones big as billiard balls,
Probably part Indian, certainly raven-haired.
The H is silent. Was Emily Norcross Dickinson,
The eponymous mother, raven aired?
Emily claimed her mother, "Did not care
For thought." "Mind your own bee's wax,"
Austin told her when she clucked. David Todd,
The Amherst astronomer, did not object,
Busy taking balloon rides in order to contact
Martians, glad to have Mabel out of his hair,

While Susan Dickinson, Emily's friend
And arguably her lover, waited bitterly 
To get properly stuck with her and Austin's
Three children in the Evergreens, an Italian
Chateau a little downhill from the brick house,
A wedding gift from Edward, the clan's
Dreadnaught patriarch, he whose tread
Augured the advent of an iron poker
In Emily's semi-clear Vesuvian eye,
Her scoop of pearl, her daisy, as she
Explained to Reverend Wadsworth, so

Scaring the pants off him he resigned
His cushy Philadelphia ministry to take a call
From Calvary in San Francisco, and after all
Her wildness, terrorizing the boys
In her father's law office, outraging
Holyoke Seminary authorities by denying
Christ, seducing the man of the cloth
Brought in for discreet counseling, aborting
Her one unborn baby, either his or her father's,
Who knows, alone in the storm's oracle:
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," she said—

Blue, uncertain, and stumbling—"And then
I could not see to see," she added at the end.
"Called back," she wrote her cousins,
Girls in her mother's family, a late enthusiasm
For the crazed, bereft spinster dying
Of Bright's disease, often the consequence
Of immature pregnancy, as if referring
To the West Street Cemetery visible
From her bedroom window, where all her life
She'd watched friends and relatives interred.
The H is silent, the O everywhere gaping.


Kenneth Rosen's first collection, Whole Horse, was selected by Richard Howard for the Braziller Poetry Series in 1970. Kenneth was living with his family in the village of Steep, England outside of Petersfield, Hants, under the auspices of the late British novelist, Penelope Mortimer, of The Pumpkin Eater fame, made into a motion picture starring Kenneth's favorite actor, James Mason, though Kenneth especially relishes Mason as Humbert Humbert in Kubrick's Lolita. Kenneth's sixth collection of poetry, The Origins of Tragedy is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Recent poems have appeared in Paris Review, Marlboro Review, and River City. Kenneth has lived since 1966 in Portland, Maine and environs, where he is off and on a professor at the University of Southern Maine. He is recently returned from three weeks as a Fulbright professor in Egypt, and is en route to Ankara, Turkey where he will be a guest lecturer at the Middle Eastern Technical University, culminating his visit with a paper on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness at METU's 10th Annual Joseph Conrad Seminar, and explain the incessant aporia at the heart of darkness as a site of freedom and of course horror.