When Emily Dickinson writes about beauty, I see home — New England in winter, alive with fun; I am sinking by a glowing fire into chairs upholstered plushly, with embracing arms and embroidered pillows.
I smell wet ink and the pulp of fresh paper being etched with slant rhymes about death, about truth. I see books on shelves and caches of poems stashed in boxes under 4-post beds; they are coming out of hibernation, piles of words spilling over themselves and out onto a carpeted floor… I sense Verses, alive.
When she writes about beauty, I see carved desks of cherry and maple neatly tucked into bay windows that drink the sun in rays and stare out unselfconsciously at complicated chambers of life. I bask in the smooth richness of the heavy wood and imagine an orchard of ancestors rooted snugly under a blanket of moss and soft earth; I smell every spore—the whole history of their existence. Through the windows, and everywhere, an embarrassment of possibilities.
In a single inward moment, I can experience the tempestuous change of season: a shift in hues, air alive with the electricity of rainstorms, a blossoming. I taste spring, the joy and promise of gardens come to live on my lips. I dwell amid perfumed bouquets of color, an effusion of velvet petals, and I am one with everything that has ever lived there, or in the thickets beyond, or on the lines in a poem Emily wrote, beholding them.
When I write about beauty, I see your eyes — tri-coloured at least, even in moderation; once a gradient of green and blue, shifting like a shallow sea bed under changing light, now chestnut, then orange… I mean orange. Have you ever seen orange in someones eyes? (If Emily’s are “sherry in the glass that a guest leaves,” yours are all the leaves in every season, and the sky behind them.) In every line that leads to these eyes I see a lifetime of your smiles and the thousands of nouns that birthed them, and the adjectives that raised them.
When I write about beauty, The Muse is this smile, pure and clear and full of you. I see light. I feel the sun on my cheeks as they turn to face you. I hear your reluctance, and even as it keeps me standing on the shore of your soul, dipping my toes in the ocean of you, it is beautiful. I taste your willingness and this is nothing less than supernatural. Your acceptance of me is sorcery.
I smell the salt of our sea, my Brighton, and the salt that lives in your skin as the two mingle in your hair, silvering the tips; I would happily inhabit this forest of follicles, sparkling with tiny, crystalline flecks. I desire to write about beauty, and suddenly I am pious: I want to worship at the altar of your mouth, present an offering of tears shaped as I let all of this rinse through me and find release.
Some day, I will press my eyes into your cheeks as I cry into your beard—this covenant of salt will preserve you. Then, whenever I wish, I can drink you into me, and, as I reclaim that saline sadness, I can transmute, like an alchemist, into beauty.