Even When I Hold Your Letter In My Hands, I Am Not Touching You | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

1106VAGANDLENight folds and folds itself

like envelope seams to some

imagined center. Like envelope seams,

night folds and folds. I want to be


slit open and not sealed closed.

You tell me Desire is epistolary.

It isn’t the poem but the distance between

the address and the addressee.

Dickinson wrote poems on envelope flaps,

in a script so small, one critic likened it to

the fossil tracks of birds.

Three letters addressed to Master


present some possible amours.


In a flap edged like home,

Dickinson writes: Hope builds a house.

Higginson thinks Emily

is a scared little mouse:

I must name my bird without a gun,

He writes, like Emerson.


The first time I held you close, I felt

how human skin is paper thin,

how contact isn’t touch, it’s skin so sheer,

you can feel the heart beneath it.


One note from a bird is better

than a million words, Emily writes,

on an envelope flap the shape of a wing.


Which gets a critic thinking

the shape of paper can determine

what gets written. Birds fly out of fear.

Some birds sing notes too high

for human ears to hear.


Emily writes to Higginson,

“You saved my life.”

He’s only certain

she’ll withdraw on close

inspection, like a shell.


You tell me how your mornings

fill with slow amours on stolen beds,

how your lover’s body folds into yours,

lap and peel. I slip my heart

into an envelope I cannot seal,


Instead I spill into the paper folds,

as numbers to a ledger. As Emily

to Higginson or Bowles,

her brother’s woman, Susan.


That no one knows to whom

she wrote, or why our Emily

goes unkissed, we cannot posit

more than this: how needless


is tenderness—

pencil lead on a grid of squares,

an envelope that goes unposted,

however quivering the script—


We spoke to each other

about each other

though neither of us spoke—


Who will make of our desires

such gorgeous architecture?

Who will account for how brave

we were, you and I,


building cathedrals

out of paper.

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