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Prose translations of Emily Dickinson
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Amy Wright

Safe Despair it is that raves—
Agony is frugal.
Puts itself severe away
For its own perusal.

Garrisoned no Soul can be
In the Front of Trouble—
Love is one, not aggregate—
Nor is Dying double—

Despair will exit in a flare of tossed curtains, but agony succors itself like a butterscotch. There is an interested observer, a stalwart authority that stakes no influence and begs none either. It is, though, influential as those half-remembered lines stated in another context become the best advice one has never been given.*

Agony, under examination, does not volunteer, like despair, to vent anger created by the loss of hope. Swallowed, it will drizzle every organ raw and cavort in their juices. Emotions thrive on entanglement, discord among the ranks—from the Greek agōn for “assembly.” Each shores itself up to dole out parcels of fresh artillery.

There is a biological or psychological or spiritual compulsion to horde energy. Metaphorically it is the knowledge the serpent taught Eve, since it is the drive of creation by which one can tease oneself furious or passive that its reins fit in hand with perception. The damning tendency induces enough mayhem to warrant a fork-tongued separate foe. Ceasing to blame an other, though, is a far cry from love. Launched like a surprise attack, love unsteadies those in the midst of strife—not to unify the battalion into one big happy, if argumentative, family, but to clarify that there is no other. Division is born of a grudge to safeguard the future. Love is more than aggregate because that slow-spent dying is as piecemeal as it is progressive.

*Translatorʼs note: By 1873, when this poem is dated, E.D. had limited the laboratory of her relational observations to the domestic, by then for thirteen years. The reduction in variables intensified the accuracy of her examined reactions, as a technician will close an experiment to subject a solvent to particular solutes. So isolated, those multitudes Whitman noticed rise to the surface like bubbles of carbon. That the Victorians capitalized their nouns helps illustrate the license emotions seize for themselves as subjects. In their capture, the home front splinters into contradiction. (e.g. Happiness that oneʼs mother-in-law is not coming is also her partnerʼs disappointment.)

Amy Wright

Before I got my eye put out
I liked as well to see—
As other Creatures, that have Eyes
And know no other way—

But were it told to me—Today—
That I might have the sky
For mine—I tell you that my Heart
would split, for size of me—

The Meadows—mine—
The Mountains—mine—
All Forests—Stintless Stars—
As much of Noon as I could take
Between my finite eyes—

The Motions of the Dipping Birds—
The Morningʼs Amber Road—
For mine—to look at when I liked—
The News would strike me dead—

So safer—guess—with just my soul
Upon the Window pane—
Where other Creatures put their eyes—
Incautious—of the Sun—

An outcast eye looks on the out and is itself that world and clear. Evicted, the eye is a stray in a kingdom of raindrops and heir to which they fall. In the irony of being without a home, all the world is. The metaphors—of sight that follows blindness, the wealth of dispossession, passion following detachment—all make sense afterward. They are the means to comprehension. Another way to see is put to you like a hurt about which you seem passive. But one who is co-opted by hurt is in an active position. Another line of sight may even be redirected by the plumb of imagination.

It is enough to evict the old perspective for in- and external to blur. The seen world splits itself with such a one who dares to claim it hers.

How many times might I guess the effect before knowing it? And, if I guess rightly, at what point am I correct? A heart that cracks in forecast may have. Visioning it is enough anyway to conclude it safer to get behind a frame of window now there is so little left to press before the lit. Life closes more than twice before its close. The “Amber Road” opens every dawn with swinging doors.

Amy Wright

We waited while She passed—
It was a narrow time—
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot—
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce—
Consented, and was dead—

And We—We placed the Hair—
And drew the Head erect—
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate—

Nietzsche wasn’t the first to declare God dead. It is a step among steps. When you meet the Buddha, kill him, a Zen koan says. Death jangles the ball and chain, but to be left is worse—to stand over a prepared body, the eyes coined, the hair placed, to remain after the comfort of rituals has ended and the “awful leisure” begun. Freedom is heavy as a child’s boredom on a Sunday afternoon. This death finished, Penelope begins unweaving her thread. Sisyphus thrills to roll his boulder up the hill again because he could. After burden, what?

Belief absorbs or fails to absorb the pressure to adjust. It cannot rest, waiting for the notice to come. Nice when “She” was here mentioning and forgetting, speaking in fragments and trailing off, because “we” could watch and hope. The first person plural pronoun joins the speaker to a continuum of attendants, but the collective cannot carry them. They wait together single file at the dock, but faith puts every party in her ship without oars or wooden frame. “And then” drops them off, alone but for the corpse, the journey wider and with no map but that drawn by a finger wet from being sucked.

Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming in June. 

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