The Fascicles of Emily Dickinson - Susan Gubernat

First of all, such a fussy word—little bundles
of nerve sewn up and plunged in a trunk,

sewn with a needle that must have pricked
her, and how she must have sucked her finger

promising herself—next time—a thimble, as the blood
ran down into a starched cuff. Mostly,

though, I’d say she went bareheaded
into the storm, like a scrimshaw etcher

on a surging deck—one eye out for leviathan,
the other trained on a tiny fistful of ivory.




I once swore to myself that I would never write an “Emily Dickinson poem,” nor would I make the requisite pilgrimage to her home in Amherst to worship at the shrine. Although I once lived quite close to Amherst, I never did visit there and I don’t know if I ever will, since it all seems like such a “scripted” journey for a woman poet to take. And anyway I felt that others—notably Adrienne Rich—had written such beautiful, meditative appreciations about having done so that I couldn’t have much to add. Whether it was the pre-feminist “popular” version of the white-clothed spinster hiding in her room when company called, or the more contemporary investigations of the Dickinson family’s less-than-proper sexual escapades, including speculation about her own liaisons and sexual orientation, I found the biographical speculations sometimes off-putting, sometimes fascinating—but generally not as important as the poems themselves, which so often meet Dickinson’s own high, “mind-blowing” standard of taking the top of one’s head off. Yet, as I continued to teach Dickinson’s (don’t call her “Emily” in my class!) poetry, I did feel compelled to try to figure out what it might have been like for her to be caught in the act of writing, and to try myself to speak about such vastness of sensibility and intellect confined by circumstance. So, ultimately, I added another metaphor to the heap, (Rich’s description of Emily Dickinson as “Vesuvius at Home” is still the best), and here it is.





Susan Gubernats first book of poems, Flesh (Helicon Nine Editions), won the Marianne Moore Prize; the chapbook Analog House, was published last year by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Michigan Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Pleiades, among others. An opera librettist, she is a Professor at Cal State East Bay, where she advises the Arroyo Literary Review.