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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

(I offer this poem by Billy Collins for ThursdayNext, Percy B. Silly, me, and my daughter.)

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Take a look at this lovely chapbook – it’s out of print, but
oh! How I wish I had it.

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Blogger firebird said...

This bird has been feeling a little slighted lately, but you have lifted my spirits---Bird Power!!

Thank you, O eloquent Bird of birds, for your support on you-know-who's blog--

You're awesome!

...and thanks to K9 for putting in a good word here for us RED birds!

February 07, 2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

You always know the right things to say.

What a beautiful story.

I didn't even have to close my eyes to imagine the magic of the moment.

You do much to remind us to lift our souls to higher planes.

Thank you.

February 08, 2007 4:24 AM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

I can see why you would want the book. It is a masterpiece.

February 08, 2007 4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


what a
beautiful poem

i see it -- it looks like an andrew wyeth painting -- the view from my my great uncle's farmhouse second storey bedroom window


February 08, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger Riki D said...

"the way some readers sigh when they realize
that hope has feathers"

How exquisite!

Thank you, bird, for sharing this.

February 09, 2007 12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very nice....evocative imagery boyedie. i like the tag "a readers sigh"

er....nice rain ya got here on the left coast. but i started out with a round of fish and chips and peets coffee...oh and my hosts have the day planned with yoga and a lesson on the bagvagah gita. what's next? drumming in a circle?
primal scream therapy? welcome to california!


thanx for the ping firebird

February 10, 2007 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just wanna make sure it's absolutely clear:

these are not my words (oh if only)

but the words of billy collins -poet extraordinarie!

hey dog! yes indeed - welcome to california - it never rains here - only pours!


February 10, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger carmen said...

thanks, bird, thanks

beautiful things you have here, my dear bird...

February 16, 2007 11:12 PM  

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