Eva Heisler

Winner of the The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award in 2011

Larceny—Legacy—    

 

1.  Reading Emily Dickinson at Twenty-Three  

Picture this: a young woman sits at a conference table in the middle of the night reading three books in rotation: twenty minutes Elizabeth Gaskell; twenty minutes Margaret Drabble; twenty minutes Emily Dickinson; twenty minutes nineteenth century; twenty minutes twentieth century; twenty minutes lyric-time.  

Twenty minutes carriage dress; twenty minutes tent dress; twenty minutes house dress.  

Twenty minutes wood fire; twenty minutes electric fire; twenty minutes Franklin stove.  

She wears a red flannel shirt, Levi jeans, and Timberland boots.   

Long unwashed hair is pulled back in a braid.    Gold-framed glasses slip down her nose.   

She smokes Winston cigarettes, drinks black coffee, and reads "Lost doubly—but by contrast—most."   

Some notion of "poet" floats like a spot of grease on her glasses.  

Twenty minutes parlor shutters; twenty minutes bedroom curtains; twenty minutes door ajar.  

Twenty minutes moors; twenty minutes London underground; twenty minutes broad stone step.   

Twenty minutes boots; twenty minutes heels; twenty minutes bare feet.  

Twenty minutes woman with twisted ankle.  

Twenty minutes woman with twisted bed sheets.   

Twenty minutes woman with twisted syntax.       

A wheel is at the gate.   

She seeks a lock of hair.  

She borrows a locket.   


2.  New Books at Thirty-One  

I read B. and I think: this is what I would have written had I access to leather satchels.   

I would have done just so had I hours to read before the crackling of logs.  

I hear it now: the snap that I was denied, and the turning of paper and a loosening of wool in the heat.   

Those careening italicized verbs should have been mine.   

I would have written this line and that had I access to ampersands and the leisure of prepositions instead of a trail of ellipses that mark the chase of absence.   

I cannot bear to trace my loss in someone else's book, and I pick up the new book by G.   

Spare G.   

Careful G.   

The lines of G: these would bear my name had I wind; had I porch.   The lines of G are frank like linen that displays its creases from years in cedar, a grid of care and time.  

I mistook the crackle of pine for a voice but it is a sharp fold in linen.   

G.—just so—just—had I linen; had I cedar.    


3.  Reading Emily Dickinson at Forty-One  

Kneeling on the floor of the library, I study the manuscript facsimiles to see if I can catch poem emerge from artifact.   

In my twenties, I transcribed the poet-as-lover; in my thirties, I recognized the poem-as-closet.  

Now, forty, the focus is gem-tactics and the practice of sands. 

This—knots [invites]—appalls [smites]—endows [erases]—shoulders [veils]—glimmers [maps]—proves [distils]—dissolves [distils]—returns [remembers]— inspects [convicts].  

The difference between "foyer" and "closet" is the difference between "refuse" and "deny." 

The difference between "lover" and "guest" is the difference between "guess" and "hope."    


4.  Drafting a Poem at Forty-Three  

The poems written in my twenties were addressed to a blue-and-gold distant guest.  

I could speak to no one but the one who could not answer.   

The poems written in my thirties were conversations among ghosts.    

The poems written in my forties are—embarrassments.   

Stubborn romance is replaced by stubborn masquerade.  

Someone here is ridiculous.   

"Lost doubly—but by contrast—most": I repeat this as I watch the sea turn from green to gray.   

I am a clump covered in Icelandic wool.   

The sea moves from the color of kiwi to the color of wet concrete.         

I look at the sea and I try to remember a lake in upstate New York.  

The sea is nerve-gray.   

The sea is gunmetal.  

I have tried to write about the lake in upstate New York according to a promise made twenty-odd years ago to an arrogant girl with long unwashed braid and the daguerreotyped face of an Amherst seventeen-year-old positioned like a miner's lamp on her twenty-three-year-old forehead.  

Lost doubly—but by contrast—most.  

The mouth of a twenty-three-year-old leers like Halloween candy lips on a forty-three year-old face, and the candy lips hiss that I am her failure; she is not mine.    


5.  Reading Emily Dickinson at Forty-Seven  

I fall asleep and dream that the words "organ" and "margin" rhyme.          

line

H. L. Hix on Eva Heisler

It is hard to imagine how a poem might better fulfill the terms of this award, to "honor the memory and poetry of Emily Dickinson."  "Larceny—Legacy—" considers, with Dickinsonian insight and depth, the long-term influence on one life of Emily Dickinson's poetry.  A quarter century passes here, from the first section, "Reading Emily Dickinson at Twenty-Three," to the last, "Reading Emily Dickinson at Forty-Seven."  The poem attests to the dynamic relationship, sustained and developed over that time, between Dickinson's poems and the author's life: "In my twenties, I transcribed the poet-as-lover; in my thirties, I recognized the poem-as-closet. / Now, forty, the focus is gem-tactics and the practice of sands."  Emily Dickinson heard the meter of hymns, but made of that meter something no hymn had made before.  "Larceny—Legacy—" hears Dickinson, and does not do what she did but does as she did.  As Dickinson's poems made of familiar hymns something wholly her own, so "Larceny—Legacy—" makes of Dickinson's now very familiar poetry something wholly its own.

Go Back to Annual Awards Winners' Listing