Poem a day #23 Missing Minnesota

Another Emily-inspired poem, again stealing a first line from her.


Missing Minnesota

Blazing in gold and quenching in purple
Minnesota sunsets stretch
Hudson Bay to Oaxaca
Rocky Mountains to tropopause,
light stratified by the lust
of prairie for heaven,
bright sky breaking open—
color volume amping up as sky
darkens around a semi-circle center,
searingred, balanced on a strip of gold,
pushed—finally—out of the day
by the weight of the hush of the night.

I’ve seen the sun set over Cape May,
Key West, Big Sur, Laguna Beach
the Western Alps, the San Rafael Swell
and the Galapagos, several of these
daily accompanied by fanfare and flags
cruise ships and applause, and all
have made me miss Minnesota—
prairie, high desert, Superior,
Boundary Waters, 10,000 lakes’
dreams refracted May to September
through prisms of brown pelicans and red pines,
sky’s dreams captured October to April,
pulled to earth to drift through days,
to remind us that even at 4:30 pm
and 40 below Minnesota sunsets cry Praise me!
pausing time until we too pause
to cry Glory, Glory, Glory.


Poem a day #22 I felt my life with both my hands

another Emily-inspired poem. Read her text here. Singer/songwriter Carla Bruni performs a setting of the poem on her album No Promises. You can sample that here.

I felt my life with both my hands

I felt my life with both my hands
though it had been—years
How civilized it was, though warm—
the glacier—booming—as it cracked.
Silent—I’d thought—for listening’d
stopped. My ear—now—to my
own chest—the humming
one thousand acres clover—
a bee on every bud.

Poem a day #21 They shut me up in prose

Another first line taken from Emily Dickinson. You can find her original, with excellent manuscript notes, here. Her poem keeps haunting me; it could have been written yesterday, and makes Emily real to me in a way she hadn’t been up til now.


They shut me up in prose

They shut me up in prose
With essay—gagged—theory
bogging my mind—my voice
stilled by easy praise

With syllables—I picked locks
with lines—unsyntaxed—
left to lose

A single sound—ah or
unh— a window
A single word—treason
an open portal—to I

Poem a day #20 Before I got my eyes put out

I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson, and have been astounded by the power of her first lines. She has a way of kicking open a door and bursting into the room guns blazing. Wow. (And if that doesn’t jive with the myth of Emily The Lonely Scribbler you’ve been fed, go and read right now!) I’m working on using some of those lines as writing prompts. This one is far from finished, just a fragment, really, but I’m out of time and must move on for now.


Before I got my eyes put out

Before I got my eyes put out
wars blazed in raging glory,
hi-def videos of surgical strikes,
dead insurgents and cluster bombs.
And now? I’ve learned to fine-tune
focus just behind the screen.

Before I got my tongue cut off
words spilled out like candy went in,
sweet or bitter—a matter of choice.
I don’t miss speaking, for I can write,
but how I crave the smooth and sweet
of ice cream and my lover’s cunt.

Tomorrow, without hands, what I’ll
miss most is scratching an itch, or so
I’ve read in the testimony of men,
women, and children mutilated.
I think I’ll miss writing most, mute
without hands or tongue or eyes.

I expect my imagination to press on,
gasping like a severed head,
for a startling amount of time. Even
silenced it could change the world—
except it shrivels, unshared, grinding
down to single sounds and then

Dickinson, #330 He put the Belt around my life

from 1862, when she was writing a poem or more a day.

He put the Belt around my life—
I heard the Buckle snap—
And turned away, imperial,
My Lifetime folding up—
Deliberate, as Duke would do
A Kingdom’s Title Deed—
Henceforth—a Dedicated sort—
A Member of the Cloud—

Yet not too far to come at call—
And do the little Toils
That make the Circuit of the Rest—
And deal occasional smiles
To lives that stoop to notice mine—
and kindly ask it in—
Whose invitation, know you not
For Whom I must decline?

Genius on Genius—McHugh on Dickinson’s Dash

I’ve both understood and been completely mystified by Dickinson’s use of dashes since meeting her voice in high school. Finally, FINALLY, someone makes sense of it for me, in terms of how writers can manipulate syntax to create meanings, contradictory meanings, and multiple meanings all with the same few words.

from “What Dickinson Makes a Dash For” in Broken English:

Dickinson uses the dash to avoid semantic mono-determination: a dash occurs where the more exclusive choice (of period or comma or colon or semicolon) would direct the sentence to a single end. Because her semantics are multiplicative her syn-tactics need to be flexible, especially at the junctures. The same dash may operate in one reading as a period or semicolon, distinguishing what precedes from what follows it; and in another, only a blink of an eye away (and existing all the while in the text) as a sign of resemblance instead, a colon, for instance. Only by suspending the power of the period (definer and difference-maker in the prose sentence) can Dickinson interweave phrases the way she does, release meaning from the sentence’s exclusionary powers, and nudge the whole occasion toward that at-onceness which is her manifold temporality.

Heather McHugh on Emily Dickinson’s inexhaustibility

from “What Dickinson Makes a Dash For” in Broken English:

It is not the definable (delimitable), finally, that interests Dickinson; she is drawn precisely to that uneasier thing, what can’t be said. The relative exhaustibility of a literary construction is one measure of its inadequacy to this truth; and Dickinson’s sentences and lines often seem designed (in judicious ellipses, elisions, contractions, puns, and dashes) to afford the greatest possible number of simultaneous and yet mutually resistant readings. Where a lesser writer might try to comprehend the world by adding more and more words to his [sic] portrait of it, Dickinson allows for it, by framing in opposites or absents, directing us to what is irresoluble, or unsaid. Where the addition of a word would subtract even one of the cohabitant readings in a text, she leaves the sense unsteady and the word unadded. What critics sometimes lament as cryptic or obscure in her work proceeds, I think, from this characteristic reticence—a luxurious reticence, a reticence which sprouts and branches meaning in many directions, the way more exhaustive (less ambiguous) texts cannot.

The murmur of a bee

The Murmur of a Bee
Emily Dickinson


The Murmur of a Bee
A Witchcraft—yieldeth me—
If any ask me why—
’Twere easier to die—
Than tell—

The Red upon the Hill
Taketh away my will—
If anybody sneer—
Take care—for God is here—
That’s all.

The Breaking of the Day
Addeth to my Degree—
If any ask me how—
Artist—who drew me so—
Must tell!