Emily helped heal me this morning. Emily and two more hours of sleep. I'm not saying this as irony, although I can see how it might seem so. But I'm remembering a Norman Mailer assertion in perhaps Advertisements for Myself that some works of art can cure terminal cancer. As an example, he quotes part of a scene in William Burroughs's Naked Lunch describing open heart surgery being done with a toilet plunger. A theme in all of Mailer’s work I recall was his shock-and-awe attack on the boundaries of propriety, I could see how a sophomoric plunger scene in a work of “serious literature” would have aroused his admiration, perhaps even provoking it enough to have assuaged a hangover if not obliterated something catastrophic, as with Norman Cousins’s claimed laughing away a crippling bout of ankylosing spondylitis.
I’m hoping my morning malaise was nothing more than a combination of allergies, tail end of the flu, and a sudden claustrophobic alienation from friends herding online to hide their growing political anxiety. Feeling the onset of a low-grade panic myself, with a dizziness I sensed might floor me, I crashed for a little more sleep. Awoke feeling a little stronger, yet still torpid, weak, dispirited…
...a desperately friendly gathering brought back my sense of balance. This from Emily, setting the scene for a heart-bridging exchange between two women who apparently have nothing in common.
A less robust audacity than the sort to roust a Mailerian hangover perhaps, but the more curative for its subtlety—an antidote for the toxic social-media-required swift, surface judgment. Yes, “desperately friendly” describes many comment threads as they beg instant harmony, and the odd subterranean note can intrude like a deliberate belch in choir practice. Emily’s audacity (switching from title to voice now) is that she reports her sightings with a poet’s sensibility, not the bluster of a Mailer rebel. Two women with nothing in common who accidentally meet on Facebook will soon become invisible to each other. In the flesh, at the desperately friendly gathering, Emily tries a little harder after the other woman looks at her with starving eyes. Driven to survive this moment, Emily tells her she’d heard it was she who brought the honey in front of them on the potluck table.
“Oh yes, the woman eagerly responds. Her eyes relax. It’s rosemary honey. We also brought cheeses from upstate New York. Try some. They go together well.”
It is a short, outwardly simple poem—as are all twenty-nine in Emily—but like a perfect note played by a master violinist its overtones reach far beyond the moment and resonate long afterward in sublime memory. In an instant this morning Rosemary Honey reached all of the way inside me, touching and reassuring my starving heart. I felt something heal.
Ah yes, Emily of Emily is a child of Beate Sigriddaughter. No doubt of this. There’s her dance with joy and innocence. Her dance with disillusionment, disappointment, remembered horrors. Her hope for meaning, for the whisper of Divine. Her gratitude.
She’s a morning child, loving the excitements she knows await her for the day, remembering her breathless elfin adoration, and feeling she was still good enough for life.
Even Sunday mornings at church with her indifferent husband and the preacher insulting women from the pulpit as is so often the case, she enjoys the freedom to wear her hat and to bask in the choir’s voices, her time to sit and soar in private beauty.
She’s ambivalent, a bit of a pushover, as a child giving up her allowance to a fellow camper soliciting for a worthy cause, but disliking the girl from then on. As an adult, avoiding the sidewalk in front of a church where a beggar hangs out, her soul feels dusty and defensive.
Oh, Emily has a sense of humor, she does. To celebrate this, I’ll give you the entire poem, called 16th Street Mall Shuttle:
On the way home from riding the roller coaster
twice, once in the front car, still fizzy with thrill,
Emily sits down on the mall shuttle, then notices
a small black man, even older than she is,
standing, leaning on a cane. All other seats
are taken. She jumps up and offers him her seat.
“No thanks, he says with a wrinkled smile,
“but you could give me a blow job.
Do something that’s really useful.” She turns
her head. Above them a sign reads
“Cancer cures smoking.”
Give Emily a look. She’ll see you, hear you, feel you. Heal you.
Get your copy here: Emily