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Poetry Friday

I love Billy Collins. But it took Chelle referencing it in her Reading Meme to lead me to this gem. I read it for the first time two days ago. Left me breathless.

Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes
by Billy Collins

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.

Comments

  1. Just wonderful! I need to read more poetry. It's something I was never really interested in but I feel the lack of nowadays.

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  2. Oh, my lord. I'm completely breathless.

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  3. lol, you said breathless, too. I loved every second of it...but those last lines...

    *happy, happy sigh*

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  4. Meljean, I know! I just sat there staring at those last lines. Full of awe.

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  5. What beautiful prose -- I'm in awe!

    Love, love, LOVE it!!

    Dottie :)

    (new to your blog, picked this up from Meljean's blog)

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  6. Hi Dottie! Glad you dropped in. He really is talented, isn't he?

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  7. Wow! Billy Collins does it again. Have never read a poem of his I didn't like. Thanks for posting this!

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  8. Ah, yes. Now you see why it's one of my favorites. :) I found it years ago and was never quite the same. I'm glad you also enjoyed it.

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  9. Jama, you are welcome. I really couldn't help myself after reading it.

    Chelle, thank you so much! Who knows how much longer I might have gone without reading this one? Too long, that's how long.

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  10. Oh my!
    Billy never disappoints!

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  11. Hey, Kelly! He does not. And it was so fun to find a new one.

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