Monday, October 31, 2011

A Certain Slant of Light

Emily Dickinson was born the middle child in a prominent Amherst, Massachusetts family on December 10th 1830 and passed away on May 15, 1886. Sadly, only a smattering of her poems was published in her lifetime. The body of her work was discovered posthumously by her sister Lavina, bound in hand-stitched pamphlets. However, Emily Dickinson is considered to be one of America’s greatest poets. The mystique which surrounds her life has made her and her poetry a subject of scholarly research for decades. However, the appeal of Emily Dickinson is truly in the simplicity of her life and sincerity of which her poetry was written.

Dickinson’s poetry has a disarming innocence, a childlike quality which might even exhibit an underlying desire to remain a child. However, it is equally as disciplined as her childhood was. Her verses, although eccentric are quite structured; her punctuations, although perplexing are consistent. However, her imagery is soft yet vivid, her words are gentle yet profound, and her rhyme and meter are lyrical yet arrhythmic. Consequently, this it is an example of how a child might write. Moreover, it’s better example of how Emily might have written were she still a child.

As a child, Emily’s bedroom window overlooked the West Street Cemetery. This may well be where she first became fixated with death. In any case, at the age of fourteen, she was traumatized by the death of a second cousin. She fell into a severe state of melancholia and was sent to stay with family in Boston to recover. Merely a year later, at the age of fifteen Emily attended a religious revival and professed to having been profoundly moved by the experience. However, the spiritual revitalization didn’t last. She only attended church for a few years and never declared her faith formally.

Nevertheless, Emily Dickinson is often considered to be a transcendental poet, even a spiritually-devout poet. However, her themes are often agnostic in nature and she frequently explores the existence of a higher power and the mystery of the afterlife. As a result, her poetry often delves into the aptitude of Death itself. Although the ideal of this might strike some as frightening, she does no more than exemplify my own reservations. However, the tone of which Dickinson examines mortality is somewhat anesthetic, if not even peaceful. To that effect, I find her expositions of death and the afterlife quite comforting.

Even though a poem like “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” might send chills up your spine, there is something serene about the way the poet accepts Death. When I read “I Died for Beauty, but was Scarce” I am comforted by the thought that whatever loneliness I may feel now won’t be compounded in the afterlife. Might the poem “My life closed twice before its close” fill me with a tenderness of despair, “A Certain Slant of Light” fills me with the exhilaration of hope by using the beauty of nature. Consequently, I want to believe that there is something more beyond this mortal coil.

Emily Dickinson has often been described as a heartbroken introvert, possibly suffering from agoraphobia, or simply an ascetic. Regardless, her poetry radiates with sensitivity and honesty and has a vulnerability which much of the poetry of the time and even the present day lacks. For whatever reason she chose to seek solace in solitude, there is no harm in being human. She might have been anxiously aware of her mortality—so am I. She might have been contemplative about the existence of God—so am I. However, the one thing Emily Dickinson’s poetry does more than anything else—is give me hope.

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Apricot Standing in Red Wine

She lay wrapped–in that soft-white blanket,
imagining how warm it would be–her back against his chest,
their bodies curved around each other.
She has this addicting idea that his thumbs will fit perfectly
into the groove of her hips–his breath on her neck.
She leads him, by the hand, to her bedroom,
quietly lets him undress her. She promises to be quiet.
To be quiet enough–that no one will hear
her–naked soul.

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011


What is the price of godliness
Save the seduction of a slow bullet burrowing beneath the skin
Loose the cold steel upon the rails of veins; unbridle the ether to make a bed
of a tongue, and abandon oneself to fleeting eternity
Milk the blood might that it raze the pain on a higher level consciousness
and walk amongst giants, savoring the taste of immortality
for you cannot kill the one who forfeits

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2007

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Diner

Dressed in her Sunday’s best, she sat alone next to the window watching the sun climb over the whitening tops of the snow-laden trees. The morning light drew back the lines in her face, and her skin was delicate and translucent. For a moment she is a vision of the woman she used to be, and yet when she bowed her head in prayer, the shadows marked the trials of her years. Smoothing out a wrinkle in her pastel-blue skirt, she laid a paper napkin neatly in her lap. Then clasping the cup of tea in front of her with both hands, she carefully lifted it to her lips and sipped at it gently. She smiled quietly at the room around her.

The waitress was sitting anxiously at the counter preparing menus for the Sunday rush, and the bus boy was joking with the cook through the serving window. In the back booth, two disgruntled farmers were discussing the precarious condition of the winter wheat over a neglected short-stack and two black coffees. The front door chimed and a middle-aged couple walked in followed by a brisk wind. The man was carrying a paper under one arm as his wife, still clutching a church bulletin, clung to his other for warmth. They stamped the mud from their galoshes onto the entry mat and shook the chill from their shoulders.

“Good morning John. Dorothy,” said the waitress standing up. “Will you be having coffee this morning?” She snatched the pot from the burner. “Yes, I do believe we will Patricia,” the man replied. “Thank you.” As the diner started to fill with the after-church crowd, the couple removed their coats and made their way to their regular table. The waitress motioned to the bus boy to let the cook alone and then moved quickly up the next aisle with coffee and menus so that she could greet them at their table. “As you know, we’re still serving breakfast,” she said, getting to the table first. “But I have the lunch specials made out and on the menu.”

“Why, good morning Edna,” said the man, stopping to greet the old woman. “You’re looking awfully fashionable this morning.”

The woman looked up at him blankly, and then smiled brightly. “Yes–yes it is a beautiful day.” She paused and looked out the window. “Yes it is, isn’t it?”

Trying to be patient, the waitress stood at their table, menus in place and pen poised to take their order. Looking out across the room she saw the tables were filling up quickly. “We have the hot roast beef on special today, John.” She prompted. “It comes with a vegetable and a salad of course,” she continued. “And we have pecan pie, fresh from the bakery only yesterday.” The man looked over at the waitress, dropped his eyes and looked back at the old woman. “Yes–yes it is a beautiful day, Edna.” He smiled. “How have you been? We haven’t seen you in church in quite some time.”

“Yes, it is quite smart isn’t it?” She smiled, brushing down her collar. “This is my Easter dress. I wear it every Easter Sunday.”

“Yes, as I was saying, you look quite becoming.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “It is, isn’t it?”

Her eyes wandered away from the man and she turned her attention to the window. The pear trees in her grandfather’s orchard were white with blossoms, and her laughter echoed kindly through their limbs as she ran barefoot through the garden of her youth. The morning light drew back the lines in her face. Her skin was delicate and translucent. For a moment she was a vision of the woman she used to be, and yet when she bowed her head in prayer, the shadows marked the trials of her years. Clasping the cup of tea in front of her with both hands, she lifted it to her lips and sipped at it gently.

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Is it not the radiance of the dawn
which stings my weary eyes,
but the passing of yester-eve’s touch
that I tremble like the leaves
with light

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2011