Amherst

How am I supposed to live without father? He is passed. Gone into the hereafter. He is never to return. While, yes, I am still very much alive. This Emily Dickinson will outlive Amherst. The confines of her childhood home. I will live out the rumour that I was the poet marked for life in her bedroom. Sitting, sitting at her desk from the early afternoon, to the early hours of the morning. They will perhaps, perhaps speak about my voyage as poet into the known and unknown world, over terrain and republic, through familiar ground and unfamiliar territory, but that has now come to an end. My eyesight is poor. Yes, my eyes are weak. I cannot see the wildflowers so clearly anymore. Sometimes I dash my fist in a pathetic fit of frustration at what I have become on the kitchen table. I have over the years withdrawn from public life. I had life once. I had life in me. I had fire and hell and brimstone in me too, but this was at one stage in my life so far away in memory now. Yes, even my memory goes dim as time, dim as the hours in a day that go by. In another time, another place, another Amherst I was operated now. Father thought that perhaps would be best for me. After that, I was not the extrovert anymore. I did not travel. I became more inhibited. Wildflower. I think of the wildflowers of my childhood. I think of my sister, Lavinia, of us picking these wildflowers. Every heartache in this world is my heartache. Cracks are beginning to show in my armour. The helmet of salvation is still in a sturdy position on my head. I did not have any need, or, desire to speak in public anymore at functions. I did not want in particular to declare myself a missionary servant in the church. I stopped going to parties. Was no longer the most popular socialite in the Amherst community. People keep on leaving me in my life. Oh, there are so many kitchen teas, and too many weddings, and then there are the baby showers that I have never got around to ever going too. They are (the Amherst-community, the public, the Christian-folk) doing to me what they did to my father. Either full of praise, or, rubbing him up the wrong way. Spreading rumour after rumour. I am not strong like he was to take it all in, and then exhale. My father was an educated man. My father was an intelligent man with a robust energy for anything political. He was elected to congress because of that. I am just like a woman now (and a woman will always be a woman). A woman is emotional, so they say, whoever they might be. The woman is of course the one with the survival instinct. I am sitting (here as a woman) moaning about her lot in life. I am not educated in the way my brother was. He went to Harvard Law School. All I have had is self-learning. All I have reached is enlightenment. All that I am is lonely. The loneliness awaits me most of all in my bedroom. This, this is all I have. This sword. This pen is my sword.

The terrors and the nightmares visit me at night. Without them, I am nothing. Have nothing but to question my own sanity. What have I done?

I have isolated myself to the point of no return. I have no life. I have no function either than to be nurse and caregiver to the childlike woman who carried me in her womb for nine months. I haven’t become older, nor, wiser gracefully. Of course, I am frightened for the future. I am a woman alone in the world. No husband to offer me sanctuary, certainly there are no more friendships. No more correspondence with male editors. People move on. The girls I knew when I was a girl, they are all women now. I don’t want to be on my own anymore. I don’t want the hours. These hours filled with beasts of terror. The machinations of an insane person’s frame of reference. And I ask myself where is the science in all of us. It is science that keeps my brain in check, set in my ways, my habits, my very schedule that I keep lest I go out of my mind. For what happens to a spinster when she grows old. When men become weary of her. Wary most of all of her moods. Her waking thoughts keep going around in circles. I am going mad again. Do you know what it, what this life means to me now?

I no longer have a purpose. There is no longer meaning in my activities. Even basic things, my temper (because I have one, because I am temperamental), I have to continually check myself. Remove myself from the situation before there is conflict. Before there is terrible pain. Loss of insight into how the conflict arose in the first place.

Before there is even a choice in the matter, I have to leave. I have no father for companion anymore. No more mother to shield from the world. To love. To love is such a treasured thing. I, I am now Lazarus. I just am. I am Hamlet’s Ophelia. I am apostle, saint, sinner, disciple and follower. Life cursed me. It is a terrible thing to say. I take that back. I cursed myself. I am to blame for everything in the end for everything that has ever happened to me. To love is both a curse and a gift. Because eventually you lose the ones you love the most. There are funerals. And all the time there are funerals, there is a funeral in my bones. In this, this wildflower’s bones. Love me, adore me now, praise me, worship me, grant me a divine audience, or, leave me. Let me alone. Let me be. Let me go. Surrender me to the universe as all women are at some stage of their lives, whether they are mothers, or daughters, or orphans. There was always this key struggle in my life. To exist. To exist. I am truly an orphan now. Can’t stand my sister-in-law’s parties any longer. I will need a chaperone. Emily cannot be alone. Emily cannot walk by herself anymore. Emily must be calmed down when she feels the wretched distress of the terrors that come at night. Who am I? Who is this stranger dressed in virginal-white all these years? In mourning for her father. In mourning for a mother possessed with childlike qualities. No children to comfort me when I am elderly, infirm, weak.

Who will look after me? Where will I go? I have flashbacks of the old me. The old life I led when I was young, calmer, more carefree, free in other words to do as I pleased. To love who I wanted to love. But that time has come to an end. There is something sinister about death now. Upon their arrival I prepare the house, I welcome them.  I welcome people who have become strangers to me over the years. They’re here now. Only stay for an hour or two. They take my breath away.

There’s no escape. No room in the house that I can withdraw into. I don’t write anymore, you know. I have completely given that up. My wildflower. I am no wildflower in the full bloom of youth anymore. The people around me are mysteriously silent now. They say nothing. They do nothing for me. They do not speak to me, and if they do it is condescending. It is patronising. They sneer, jeer, mock, stare, glance my way, and say nothing. There is no communication. There is no connection there anymore that drives us together again. Just pain and bondage. More pain. More bondage. I think it all a trick of my mind.

Must be, right? When I was a girl, I was happy. When I was in love, or falling in love I was happy. Now my mind is clouded. My judgements, what about it. I have no judgement on anything, anymore, anymore. No love. Only bitterness. No husband. Only regret. To think that now I am a joke. Well, that is how I feel. This emptiness rolling around with the birds and the butterflies and moths in the abyss of self, what is left of my ego. There is no longer an identity to speak of. No longer a charmed life with suitors in tow. No more marriage, or, even indecent proposals. No joke. Recluse. I’m a recluse. I don’t go out. I don’t socialise. Another break from reality, then another, and another, until no one is laughing anymore. They say prayers. They say prayers instead. They give me tracts. Reading matter for my spiritual progress. Readying me for my spiritual awakening, or, some reckoning made on behalf of the God of all matter and energy. There are variations in my behaviour now. Sometimes it comes on strong like a narcotic. It grows and grows and grows. Sometimes it is subtle, but it is always there. I know nothing of the world, nor do I want to now. It has come too late. Too fast and furious is the end times upon me. The end of my life. Rather the end of my life as I know it. No more father. No more father. No more shelter. No more sanctuary. Who is going to look after me when I am old and tired, and a white-haired lady whose hair is streaked with silver? The show must go on nonetheless. I must endure. The survival instinct kicks in. I must prepare my work for posterity. The legacy is in the writing itself.

The hours I spent in my bedroom. Word after painstaking word. I am given orders. I am told what to do. What not to do. Nobody comes to the house. Soon, soon I will be the only one here. It won’t be a sad affair, I promise you. I have so much to do. I have to prepare an entire lifetime of work. Put it into order. You think I’m someone. I’m a nobody. I’m a real nobody with a nothing life to show for it. All these times I was hoodwinked, you see. I thought I was charismatic. I thought I would always be dear, one day be darling wife and mother.

Now I have nothing but this for the world. This incredible body of work. The work must not be still. Must not be composed as I am. It must go out into the world. People must read it. It will be pushed.

Pushed into the world. But not by me. By critics, and editors. By the working class. By the people who love me unconditionally, and without question. Unlike the non-supportive members of this society. Give me the working classes over the petty middle class any day. They love without expecting anything in return. They are so poverty-stricken, you say, what would they want from a recluse like me. What can they possibly offer a poet who has lived a ruined life? An unmarried life.

A life marked by pain and terror at every turn. I have known what it is to be loved. Now no one can take that euphoria away from me. Not even the love of my life, the work, you see. The work, the writing of the poetry is the most important thing. It is not so important for it to be praised, for the writing life to inspire, for my own life to be admired anything like my grandfather’s life was, or my father’s life, or my brother’s life. Published widely. I know this for a fact now. My plan is my plan. My goal is my goal. My writing is my writing. Yes, I am helped financially. Yes, I am well-off in some ways, but life is getting tired of me, and I sometimes find people in society tiresome.

Their notions are ridiculous. Wishing to turn me into something that I’m not. A Protestant. I was a no-hoper. Not part of the Christian revival scenario that overtook New England in my younger days. I rejected the church. I rejected the indoctrination. The lectures that were supposedly sermons. I never rejected the faith though, although it must have seemed that way to my beloved father. The one man in my life who loved me for me, I guess. Now I am alone. Utterly, utterly alone. I’m old-fashioned in my thinking, in my outlook on life, but not when it comes to spiritual matters, and issues of faith. I just no longer make sweeping statements with regard to Christ. The only people I do make sweeping statements about are those who wax on prosaically on the total annihilation of the human race because of the end times.

Who want to quote the Book of Revelation to me of all people (as if I have never heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse)? Speak to me of the prophets. Men of integrity. Speak to me of their depth of character. Their spiritual progress in the world. Elijah being taken up to heaven in dazzling chariots of fire. Speak to me of Ezekiel, his protégé. There was one minister who called the world an apocalypse in the making, an experimental dystopia that was a work-in-progress. I just felt that he was attacking the very cultural background of Amherst, and insulting my intelligence. I had just cause to do what I did. To turn my back on that world of the church. A spinster in distress. I am distracted by thoughts of my own mortality. I can hardly see the flowers now. I can hardly see them, but they are the first thing that I think about when I open my eyes in the morning when I wake. The very last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night.

Wildflowers are a sight! A sight to behold. The wildflower is the hero in my life now.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.