As a writer, as a reader, and as a woman, one of my favorite memories is the day I took a pilgrimage to the Emily Dickinson Museum in the winter of 2011. I lived in Massachusetts for thirteen years, and it still surprises me that I had never visited the home of my favorite poet in that time.
There is something about Dickinson’s poetry that opens my heart; her words reach deep inside me and bring me a sense of calm. There is no other way to describe the effect of her words on me without the use of purple prose. Her themes of life, nature, and even death give me perspective of the world around me, and remind me of the innocence of existence.
When I first began writing poetry as a hobby in 2005, Emily Dickinson was my idol. I had been reading her poetry since I learned how to read, and she remained my favorite poet throughout high school. Even as my world view widened, Emily Dickinson continued to be at the core of my interests. It’s because of her that I use the em dash in my own poetics.
I remember watching the street sign that read “Dickinson St.” pass by when the car pulled into a parking lot a few blocks away. I remember the quickening pace of my heartbeat as I approached the fence, and followed the sign to the entrance, which was actually in the back of the building. The small gift shop was crowded with all kinds of Dickinson memorabilia; I made a mental note to purchase a bookmark on the way out.
We went from room to room, from the parlor to the study, and to the second level. The grooves in the wooden railing were smooth from wear under my touch, and the stairs creaked with welcoming echoes. Down the small hallway was Emily Dickinson’s bedroom. I can still see the vivid picture of her bed in the center of the room, with her desk neatly by the window.
The tour guide picked up a basket sitting on a table by the doorway and passed it around. I picked up one of the slips of laminated paper. The faded cursive was hard to read, but etched into the scrap corner of what may have once been an envelope. I knew what I was holding, but for some reason, did not want to acknowledge it.
Then our guide said, “Emily Dickinson would write drafts of her poems on pieces of scrap paper. What you are holding now are…” I didn’t hear the rest of her explanation, as I became light-headed with an out-of-body experience. I was holding Emily Dickinson’s original words. Written in its original ink. Written on her actual scrap paper. I had to remind myself to breathe. The moment was over when I had to return the scrap to its basket.
On the way back down the stairs, the tour guide eyed my hand on the railing and smirked as she said, “You know, Emily Dickinson once walked down these very stairs.” The realization hit me, and my face stretched in absolute awe. I remember the chuckle of the tour guide.
The tour continued throughout the rest of the house and to the neighboring residence, the Evergreens, which belonged to Dickinson’s brother and his wife. Upon the completion of the tour, I purchased the bookmark and continued my Dickinson sojourn, leading me to the nearby graveyard.
I can’t imagine living so close to a graveyard, watching processionals pass by my window. But Emily Dickinson did, and she even details in one of her poems that she wanted to be buried in the graveyard that sat only a few blocks away. Her wishes were implemented, and she now rests in West Cemetery.
After finding her gravestone, I remember standing in silence, staring at the engraving of her name. Stones had already been placed on top of her marker out of respect. I opened my purse and pulled out the notebook I carried with me at all times, and tore out a sheet of paper. After writing my note, I placed it next to the stones, with another stone on top of the folded paper to secure it. I remember the sensation of complete calm.
A nearby mural overlooks West Cemetery. A core section of this collage is a portrait of Emily Dickinson. That sight was the perfect way to end my pilgrimage, and one of the best days of my life.