by Carolyn Kizer

Page 1

I believe I have a distinction at this Emily Dickinson festival that no other writer here can claim, and that is that Emily and I have the same birthday. If she'd only been born five years earlier it would have been a perfect hundred years. You notice I don't say if only I'd been born five years earlier, or later that is. I want to read a couple of Emily's poems that meant a lot to me when I was a young woman because I thought I was the only person in the world that didn't know who they were. I thought that my shaky identity was unique and my fear that if I looked in the mirror I wouldn't see anything there was special to me. I remember the great comfort with which I found Emily on that subject in the following poems:

I am alive - I guess -
The Branches on my Hand
Are full of Morning Glory -
And at my finger's end -

The Carmine - tingles warm -
And if I hold a Glass
Across my Mouth - it blurs it -
Physician's - proof of Breath -

I am alive - because
I am not in a Room -
The Parlor - Commonly - it is -
So Visitors may come -

And lean - and view it sidewise -
And add "How cold - it grew" -
And "Was it conscious - when it stepped
In Immortality?"

I am alive - because
I do not own a House -
Entitled to myself - precise -
And fitting no one else -

And marked my Girlhood's name -
So Visitors may know
Which Door is mine - and not a mistake -
And try another Key -

How good - to be alive!
How infinite - to be
Alive - two-fold - The Birth I had -
And this - besides, in - Thee!

(JP 470)

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there -
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler -

I turned my Being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the Owner's name -
For doubt, that I should know the Sound -

I judged my features - jarred my hair -
I pushed my dimples by, and waited -
If they - twinkled back -
Conviction might, of me -

I told myself, "Take Courage, Friend -
That - was a former time -
But we might learn to like the Heaven,
As well as our Old Home!"

(JP 351)

Like Eyes that looked on Wastes -
Incredulous of Ought
But Blank - and steady Wilderness -
Diversified by Night -

Just Infinites of Nought -
As far as it could see -
So looked the face I looked upon -
So looked itself - to Me -

I offered it no Help -
Because the Cause was Mine -
The Misery a Compact
As hopeless - as divine -

Neither - would be absolved -
Neither would be a Queen
Without the Other - Therefore -
We perish - tho' We reign -

(JP 458)

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