The Bearable Logic of Light

Emily DOn a day I feel dangerously close to knowing nothing, my brother-in-law, who I love, for whom nothing has come easy, speaks in a generous moment of true sincerity about a research methods course in college, how he had to find a quick way to answer the question, “Did Emily Dickinson care more about life or death?”

(Earlier, waiting for my ex to come take me to lunch, and then treat me to the slow and filthy fucking we’ve enjoyed on and off for almost fifteen years, I showered: hands sloughing skin from my aging body, the razor’s bloodless miracle all the way up my inner thigh, my lovely, lovely breasts— how long, this beauty? I am filled with sudden panic—)

I just thought, ok, you would get her collected poems, hit the index, and see how many times she used the word life versus how many times she used the word death—

(I reached for the apricot scrub in its plastic tub, and thought, I should use this on my neck now, as well— it’s Collagen Infused, it tells me, capable of a host of tricks, able to diffuse the tiny lines around my mouth and eyes— so why not, then, the neck, the nexus

of the head and heart, liminal, apart, the keeper of the throat? Once my gloating fingers

floated down its satin skin, but now, they bump along, they stick in what must be the faintest fits and starts of waddled folds. The neck: it’s getting old, the first to go—

Some days, we think we’ve got it all under control. Just rub that glob of sweetened scrub beyond the firm borders of your pointed chin—)

My brother-in-law grins. And what was the answer? Did life or death win? Emily Dickinson, Belle of Amherst, no poetaster, served a dark and unknown Master, had an alabaster skin, shut the world out with her pen. And we know so little of her life, little of her men. And let’s just say, for argument, she mentioned life with twice the frequency she mentioned death, she spent more time on light, on breath, than on their end? Where does that logic lie? Imagine Miss Dickinson— no, try— all gussied up in her white skirts, her corset laced until it hurts, and always sure she’s just about to breathe her last, and so, to push the thought away, to try, once more, to meet the day, she writes another song in careful praise of shining suns, and aprons, creased, and sparrows hopping down the lane, but in her brain the end is always nigh. And still, the hope, to see another sunrise in the Massachusetts sky, to know, at least, that it will be there, even if we’re not—

(The water is too hot. My thumb & pointer pinch & hold & pull upon my neck, it wobbles back, slack. But never mind. This, too, I will unline. This, too, I’ll scrub away, today, & start anew, again: oh hands, oh butterflies & two-ply strokes, oh fluid, pumiced choke against my hollow throat, oh gratitude for creamy, pummeled rock, its wild claims, its crock of total shit, that it can put a hit on time, rewind its chimes, go tock-tick not tick-tock, can work in perfect, scamming tandem with my hands, their cosmic joke, their counter-clock, their lying. Bless them for trying.)

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About evanduyne

I'm assistant professor of writing at Stockton University, where I'm also affiliated faculty in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. I work on Sylvia Plath, contingent faculty, and creative writing around trauma and domestic violence.
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