The mystery of one photographer's art answered in expansion by a poet
|As he told it to me: "On a visit to Amherst as a young man, I made my way out to the Dickinson family plot.
I stood before her headstone, and stepped close as I dare. I descended in the snow to my chest; I wished that Emily was pulling me to her. What would happen if I continued to fall until I was truly with her?"
The oddest story a man ever told me before drunk sex. We'd been looking at a collection of erotic daguerreotypes he kept. As foreplay, it did not surprise me, coming from Stephen. He was of a Kerouac generation, in reality, but his soul traveled much more aged rivers of thought. I knew my mentor this well, this was not a suicidal admission nor a desire to lie with a corpse beneath the deep snow. He was speaking on a spiritual level.
Before becoming geographically close, there were deep musings over the phone -- far-outside writing practice -- which connected us, and heightened my curiosity, as he mentored me. I was determined to witness his coming-of-age. My definition of that was Stephen joining all of us in this century. Yet, simply, to have described for you his truly romantic attachment to, and keeping portraits of, several muses -- the main one: Emily Dickinson, you'd question whether I was right to "correct" his world view to the present. If you'd believed in past lives and the twinning of souls in love, then you might instead question my sanity. In the beginning, I was curious and of two minds about the whole notion.
I asked him, "Would Emily Dickinson have known you; an earlier life? If it was now that she lived, would she still know you -- would you recognize her spirit, should it choose to inhabit a new life? Would you want her to live a more outwardly lived life? Who would she be, and look like? How would she "act out" if given the stage? If any of us were to encourage her to change her life, could it alter her innate nature?
deep drift swallows me at the grave of the goddess. This explains why I am in darkness. Is this about Death? Or, as I have always written, Life! Reaching past the cleared curb to touch the marker, and as my one knee gave way -- involuntarily I am engulfed in that icy embrace. And despite the shock and discomfort, I again wish to keep falling to be in her arms.
I know that I described this and probably several other foolish truths to Becky last night. The wine was good, and the sex after was better. She was forgiving of an older man's banter to cover the lifelong shyness. I awoke alone, but to coffee aroma and lively bird gossip. Some but almost no light in the loft -- it must be foggy out. Oregon is my home, my nest, my grave. An aubade poem comes to mind.
As soon as I descend into the kitchenette, Becky offers me my own Kiss Me I'm Irish coffee mug, and lightly reclines against the tabletop with her own randomly selected cup nearby.
Becky is in her shirt from the flight in, but it is peeking out from under my wool sweater. Bunchy and oatmeal brown, it still looks better skimming her tanned, ample upper thighs than any time I've pulled it snug across my own pale chest. The lady must be cold. My gallantry is a bit stunted by the fact that she already has my sweater as a logical solution. I reach out and collect her in close to me. She nuzzles in. Warm breath like the fresh burn of a deep Merlot spreads across my chest hairs at the vulnerable notch of my neck -- I like this. How like my dream, and my many possible former lives. This dance of love, even with no music. The goddess before me has the same strength as the one I worship. Knowing this, I am complete in a moment without words. I don't yet have coffee coursing through me, but, the addiction to put words to everything is already spinning me past this pure moment. Her stroking fingertips touch all my bare skin and sets my heart pounding at the pace of a stallion being broken.
I still feel you with me in the dark, my love. The aubade forming is moving ahead anyways; I imagine my muse smiles, performing the expected lashes to prod at all my weak spots. My immediate rebellion against Her power, as well as the draw of the reality-inducing coffee, is to set the mug down and incite a glorious distraction. I bend into Becky (present/accepting) with a kiss of defiance towards all longing for Emily which I've talked around for this whole lifetime. I still find myself making a wish in this moment, let it not feel foolish, moments or even years in retrospect. It finally has hit me -- so like myself, that living in study around Emily Dickinson's past has caused my own living, death walk.
The skin of Becky's cheeks and neck are warm under my palms. The time for so long a connection of lips, we both become oblivious to how our breath continues without conscious thought. The longer we are in contact, the greater my own anticipation grows to give from that potent wand tensing and quivering below my robe.
Becky is wriggling slyly from my arms and from the sweater in a swift deep knee bend. It is not retreat, but rather coming up for air. She smiles and winks at me in her maneuver. Then I see her like a glistening mermaid back under my arm, looking up at me in challenge. Her own shirt that had been under the sweater remains barely across her shoulders unbuttoned. She does not sustain the pause because our energy is still in expansion.
"I remember your favorite picture we discussed last night," Becky announces. And she raises her arms high above her, and rakes her fingers through her hair to part it severely at the center. She holds it gathered away from her face momentarily. I breathe in with recognition and a tide of lust. Like an animal led to frenzy over a sudden scent, I lunge onto her neck and decolletage. That does surprise me. She tip-toe dances only a foot away to a sheer veil of fabric that my ex had hung to separate the living room from the eating nook. She easily drags me with her as she barely masks herself behind the drape. This is the pose of the unknown, bare-breasted dancer, image partly degraded by time, which Becky suggested to me was Emily as a woman demanding sexual satisfaction -- a warrior unafraid of attention.
That Emily could live in our time of social media and celebrity. And this, this beautiful living woman of flesh and color, eager to please me and also stimulate my creativity, and my intellect is more powerful and immediate than a life-long romantic notion. I am sure now that my student, my muse and my goddess are one. Those eyes glance at me with knowing. They make my mind and my body want to work together in harmony.
She is pulling me to her. What will happen if I continue in this orbit until I am truly with her?
Word Count: 1233
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections is the home of the original Dickinson Daguerreotype