Nowhere in the official volumes is it written
that Emily Dickinson’s best friend
was a gypsy woman.
Her name was Emerald.
Her cottage was in the forest
beyond the common of the town.

She had a small garden where she grew
raspberry, mint and balm for the teas
that she peddled door to door.
Beneath her windows bloomed
roses, lilies and lavender;
on warm summer nights
when she could not sleep
she followed their fragrances
through the heavy air.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 In the woods and meadows
she tended medicines–
no one could accuse her.

It was a spring midnight
when Emerald saw Emily’s face
instead of her own
reflected in a vernal pool.
She made a packet
of althea and euphrasy,
tied it with a red thread,
and set out for Emily’s house.
She knew the room
by the lighted lamp,
and tossed a pebble.
Emily was not surprised.
She came down into the garden,
wrapped in a thin blue shawl.

They sat among white lilacs then
and told their lives.
Emerald had the seeing
and Emily the words.
Together they moved the moon
across the Amherst sky.

They seldom met in winter,
but always on St. Stephen’s Night,
even if it were bitter cold.
Together they’d shelter from the wind
under a heavy blanket Emerald wove
from the wool of her old gray goat.
Always Emily gave gingerbread cut in stars,
and Emerald a muslin bag
of bearberry, cornsilk and nettle.

Emerald heard the poems
she could not read.
Emily heard the visions
that she could never see.
Each one knew the world,
the way it turned,
the space it occupied.

It was years before
the time was right–
and when it was–
Emily asked and Emerald told–

the future–deep and narrow–
clarity and sorrow–
so much to be gained
through loss.



Published in Old Hotel


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