In the lamplight afforded us
by a generous donor who wished
to remain anonymous, we sat
in the front row, eager to see
the hand come down and hover over
the infant flesh, squeeze
the doughy knees. Please, we asked,
press the palm lightly
against the forehead, in a promise
that all the future wounds
will have some modicum of purpose.
Just ask, they said, and it will be.
The soul is a gob in your chest.
Be brave and touch it. Oh,
oh, what mess. What thick discharge
from the eyes. I once was blind
and then I got blinder
and then—then—I could see.
"Be brave and touch it" says Bridget Lowe of the soul in her poem "Wretches". It's the implicit command driving so much of Dickinson's poetry, where soul-work, the work of wound and wisdom, is an ecstatic and brutal art. I love in particular the last sentence of "Wretches": "I once was blind," Lowe writes, "and then I got blinder / and then―then―I could see." Here we find some Dickinson signatures: the drama of revelation, unfolding over line-break and through repetition; the dramatic suspension―and final delivery―of that revelation, via dashes in the very last line; the way these lines echo the lyrics to "Amazing Grace", a song to which nearly every Dickinson poem can be sung. But there's a modern irony and rue to Lowe's poem, a tinge of the surreal, even a suggestion of the horroristic, that makes it wholly contemporary. Dickinson's "Master" has become a "generous donor who wished / to remain anonymous", who has offered the "lamplight" by which a strange staged ritual will take place, one meant to effect a plea for suffering to have meaning, if only a "modicum of purpose." And so the news, in Lowe's arresting poem, is ever and eternal: "the soul is a gob in your chest."