EMILY DICKINSON

ELIZABETH R. HITCHCOCK

 
 

In your backlit polaroid photo she wears a jacket with a fur
lined hood to prepare for winter ahead. Emily came with you
to your gully beside the river. We need to build a fort. Her shoulders move,
remind you of the somewhat self inflicted wounds, and/or growing pangs
resting there. So you pick up river mud, the silver silt,
it runs between your fingers. You draw one quick line
across the bridge of her nose; Emily points at the hawk’s nest in the birch tree
you named Helen. First, come the felled logs you steal together, drag down the rough
hill. Emily was a Girl Scout, she whips out her bandana to prove it,
ties the top of your fort together in army green. You might need kindling
and tinder, but you are not building a fire. You want to strike matches off
the white strand of Emily’s teeth. It’s time for old sheets now on the clothesline,
faded rose print, shrew eaten, fleece. They keep out the breeze
that followed the melting stream down from the glacier. Emily ties clove hitches
while you tie square knots on each log. My father built a sweat lodge,
for some Presbyterians, or maybe Methodists, I always get them mixed up.
It was octagonal. They said, no he said, the rounded logs made them closer to God.

This conical fort will not make you closer to God, but closer to Emily as you build,
and a smidge closer to growing up. With each cinched knot,
Emily names each bee she’s seen. They are hibernating now, went to sleep
a month ago when the fireweed bulbs turned brown and the rhubarb shriveled
under the porch light. Emily carries swollen pinpricks and lines
on her forearms, and the places where her biceps meet shoulder blades.
The red blanket in the fort is stolen from Land’s End, the kerosene lamp ordered
with Lehman’s Non-Electric catalogue. You sit cross-legged in your fort
across from Emily, her legs too long for the container you’re resting in, and
you pretend string lights are dangling from logs raining
down pink patterned sheets. The old thermos, army surplus, filled
with scorching hot chocolate, spiked with a tip
from your sister’s whiskey. It’s a special occasion. There are pink ribbons
winding up your matching skinny jeans. The dried mud
on Emily’s nose softens from the steam smoldering off the top of your mug.
Before you move in to kiss her, you remember
you are both 15, and there’s time to love her; it not spring yet,
or even winter. And no raw autumnal equinox
has the right to warm you bodies like this to the core. So you do not
kiss her. You sit under the faux light of fall twilight and listen to Emily Dickinson recite,
while you immortalize her in your mind’s eye, and with the bright bulb
of a polaroid camera. The fort walls whistle with river wind,
so you lean your head onto her shoulder and
ask her to tell you the history of the river. You awaken,
no longer adolescent, still wishing you kissed her. You bite your nails
knowing even now, you would walk home
leaving her to rest on the dirt floor of your fort alone.

 

 
 

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