It’s barely possible to imagine the hem of her black or white dress resting close at the knee of a leather boot belonging to a soldier with so many children borne to another woman.
Metallic scents of expensive ink on expensive paper linger not in her room, but in her father’s office downstairs. She writes by hand, of course, in her bedroom, at a small, crafted desk and seated on a chair that is cut and waxed from some of the grandest trees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The glories of lilac and generations of bees flavour an ordinary lead pencil, maybe a sharp knife too, laid on the desk to carve a point. Her neck is long and pale, black hair wrapped into itself at the nape, and pinned. The line of her spine drops plumb as she breathes quick and anxious.
In bitter winter, Emily looks down through her window at a horse raising his snow-dusted hooves through drifts, the wheelwright’s toil rolling behind. They travel along the road to a neighbour, delivering to the town’s elite. Her brother’s children, released from next door, laugh in these memory grounds beneath the cold, white blanket surrounding the yellow house. She’s observed robin search for his worm at the edges, pecking at the frozen leaf piles. Her secret lover makes boot prints through her father’s garden to his place of work. He glances up to her window with a wry smile beneath his flamboyant well-groomed moustache.
Spring has raced through this year—the bulbs bursting with colour in the borders—purple crocuses, yellow daffodils with orange hearts, and pink and blue hyacinths—and then abandoned her. How must she feel? The petals have shaped her thoughts into words, but she is anxious that it will all end soon. This keeps her in with her thoughts.
In a summer heatwave, the warmth of wet soil in clay pots, and spiced leaves, drifts into her hair, and Emily throws open the conservatory windows. A bead of sweat runs across her brow when the nights are sultry. And there is fresh-pressed lavender-scented linen on her bed when thunder comes, especially when the leaves redden and fall to the first frosts.
Emily writes each letter one at a time until they make words, and lines like tiny rivers on the back of used envelopes, and orange telegrams—Baltimore orioles—and any scrap paper she can find. There is a slant of light, of truth, yes; that bright New England kind that contrasts even the palest patterned walls and white skirtings.
She writes again in her beautiful garden. Blue jays are gifts, red cardinals shock. The loud warbles of tiny Carolina wrens float along the perennial borders of the Homestead under an orderly, painted, hickory fence. Even the Magnolia tripetala leaves swelling through the winds of the Fall gently vibrate that same, perfectly hand-stitched hem just when their rosy red fruit cones are in their prime.
For now, thanks to Austin, I read they flourish beyond Homestead northward about two hundred miles from their native range and a degree of centigrade. You are all visionaries.
Emily mouths her own words quietly and sends them silently to a huge appetite denied in public spheres. The repression bubbles up, coded in decorum. Blood flows to her lips and through her fingertips. Skin on skin, under the skin of him, and her, then through the hand; hand through wood and lead; lead on manilla, and into her pocket. She can keep him there constantly, and no-one would ever know. She smiles, politely, at Lavinia.
If Emily had split a lark herself, somehow without harm, and peered into the microscope, she’d find her neighbour Lynn searching for the slanted truth, and source codes, and yellow, deep in a cell and the organelles. This place is where all the energy is, and all that lays in her pocket.
She’s young on her wedding day—nineteen, like my Mum. She looks happy, swept into the folds of intellectual love. As a child, she has a bright mind free to roam the woods, unhindered. Now, it’s a strong will to study, and to be with him, and to inspire. They have a child together—Dorian. They divorce.
From the liberal arts to a passion for the inquiring, challenging mind, science history, she keeps her hair tied, or short. And she cycles to a humming lab where she dwells on processes, where the black and white microscopes stand in rows. Soon, she is eye-deep in the cell and the organelles through the glass—the glascella—where she splits the minutiae larks, to think and theorize a new understanding. It’s that slant of light falling across all those pale, patterned neo-Darwinists with her rolling-into-words, honey Illinois.
But she takes all her nature in with her; all of it. Worms, termites, termite gut bacteria, birds, slimes, eukarya. And she knocks on the doors of the journals and they turn her away, until one day, the world just gently shifts on its axis. Life, it is proven (until disproved) is to be less anger, after all, and more love; an inter-kingdom of unions and sex and symbiosis, not war.
And Lynn falls in love again. We all do if we’re fortunate. I did. Two more children, all now flourishing, then another divorce—she’s a dedicated first-class scientist and author.
She writes her notes by hand/in type. Spirochetes spin their corkscrews in white cups, and she looks to all those men again and gently laughs. Her time is big moves, from Chicago Chickadees to the Dark-eyed Juncos of Berkeley and back again to the East. And more, to NASA, to Russia, to international councils of men, and time with mics in studios, and interviews with great writers. She’s blazing trails to lecture halls the length of the land.
Finally, Lynn finds her way home to Emily’s town and the grandfather’s college, where she is content as a botanist can be. She has moved next door to those Dickinson memory grounds. And they meet somehow over the hickory fence. Spring has raced through very fast this year—the bulbs bursting too late in the borders—and as Lynn writes through finger tips and plastic keys and memory boards in a summer heatwave, a bead of sweat runs across her brow. This is her place now, her Amherst. It’s friendships, yes Lovelock’s rainbows on Hungry Hill, and the geosciences where they also make art for her, and this is magic for her: an Earth so in sym as to be the sum.
As her children’s children laugh, her love grows for the sauce code in decorum written on manilla and chocolate wrappers just next door; Emily’s yellow. I’m listening to you, Lynn, as you swim forever wild in your Puffer’s Pond.
I have two lives. One is before Mum’s suicide and the other comes after that. Before, I am steered by the great events of those I love. After, comes a life of trauma and healing. In healing, I emerge, though trauma is never a singularity.
As a child, I have a bright mind free to roam the Herefordshire woods and streams, and listen to larks, unhindered. My hair is long, until the chemo, tied back into a wild bunch. We meet at college, where I design with black ink on whiteboards and read Zevi. He maps gold and reads Lopez. Then, in Welsh borderlands, he gives me tandems, and our dog, and daily walks. And I know these hills like the memory grounds. After walks under rainbows on Hungry Hill, our daughter comes, and life seems the best adventure. We go to that New England light (Chickadee) and wade through Pacific waves under the Aotearoan cloud (Tui). And I still love him for that. Big moves.
But the after comes, and terrible trauma brings anger and control, and it takes a long time in the city between the Taff and the Ely for me to leave. But I do, and I find new, deep love. And so to this intellectual bird love—of Cardiff Dippers and Albert’s Lyrebirds—I too receive a wry smile—and the hems and leather boots are in symbiosis with visions of a new epoch itself. I have scribbled in pencil on manilla envelopes our word, mirrors. They also know before and after, a lonely place to be.
How dull would life be without you, Emily and Lynn, and I pocket all the slant light and symbiogenesis I can mine in your words, forming my own thoughts and words, pushing all the hickory fences back. I mouth my own words to a huge appetite denied in public spheres. Love is never sentimentalism. Blogs (light of all the seasons) are my instruments—plastic keys— and Twitter, though there is control there and it can make me unhappy. There’s a beautiful book too, thanks to my friend Riechmann, in a language my daughter knows well. And I relish, too, the visceral art with Lyons under Welsh sleet ~ ah, the Elan horses.
You see, I grew up in my mother’s rambling garden with hardly an edge into the wild of the wood and the streams. And I tended a glasshouse, just like Emily, the warmth of wet soil in clay pots, and spiced leaves in my hair. I climbed mountains and even flew them (the Red Kites). But it was Dad who always tasked me to question. We cared for each other in the after, and I held his hand as he breathed his last. I miss him.
And to abandonment and cancer ~ how must I feel? I am still here above red sandstone, standing at the confluences. Deep down here, there are all the five Kingdoms in symbiosis spreading to cover the entire Earth. I can’t tell you, Lynn, what ten thousand miles away means, and what ten thousand miles back feels. Straight down, beneath my feet, all of time. And then to record them, and the loss ~ each mile ~ with my tiny, black mic, pinned to my pale, patterned blouse.
Daughter’s voice has grown strong in justice and language, like the river, and I learn from her. Meanwhile, I wait and write, and walk each day to Kingfishers and Goosanders, with Heron-like patience; at other times none at all, like the gleam of a Peregrine’s strike. I live Rilke’s questions, searching along my own Amethyst Brook or Connecticut—The Edw and the Wye— imagining all the spirochetes, searching too for the light beneath my own versions of Magnolia tripetala and all their subsoil mycelium lovers and sunshine. Nothing is separate: All is flow, my rivers, yellow, and that gentle shift of the axis.
Lynn, you asked me for new words, a source code, so I give them to you. Emily, I understand you and the blood to the lips. I feel like we are the lichen on my Mum’s grave, the trisense; it takes three in symbiosis—the alga, and two types of fungi (an ascomycete and a newly identified basidiomycete yeast), but all three must have that colour.
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