Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes



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.

-- Billy Collins

Comments

Carolyn B. said…
Oh, my. I absolutely loved this.
Velma said…
To quote Paris Hilton (SORRY!):

"That's HAWT!"
Loretta said…
Sigh.

Perfection.

My only sweet treat today.
margalit said…
If only sweet Emily could have had such an experience. That she did not is such a tragedy. But I loved the line "a fly buzzing in a windowpane.' because it so reminded me of one of my favorite of the Belle's poems, "I heard a fly buzz then I died."

Love her.
Kim said…
Oh my.
Badger said…
K is SO getting lucky tonight.
robiewankenobie said…
i do believe i have the vapors. ::fans herself::
Annagrace said…
Do you know how much I love Billy Collins? And this is a favorite.

Happy Valentine's bb!
Amy A. said…
I know you've already been
'oh, my-ed'... but, oh, my!
paola said…
Very nice.
readersguide said…
Lovely!
She She said…
Oh, I love him.
Poppy Buxom said…
Oh sheesh, I'm so embarrassed!!! I need some Louisa May Alcott, STAT!
Apple said…
All I can say is WOW!!!
Right - someone else you will inspire me to find out more about!

This was just beautiful.