Indexing Emily

The dead gaze back across their special days:
cloud above clover, crisis above the crow . . .
Such new horizons, yet they still approach.
They know how eclipse and ecstasy edge along together:
whisper and wink of wind, but no real weather.
Between practice and prayer there’s always praise.
Mist and mistakes are in the text.
And now here’s the night—nobody’s next—and poetry
falls from the crucifixion like a crumb, and belief
needs bells, needs bereavement. Bothersome.
Now a feather falls towards March
somehow recalling the snake above the snow.
Everything slows. All those ships
anticipating shipwreck: frigate, little boat.
Brain almost touching the bride. Sweet anecdote.
Can the simple be simplified? Our riches
ride on a riddle: rapture and rainbow
and remaining time. And now all the columns
of Love appear. No word of reproof, no sign
of rage. Love is like Death: it needs to turn the page.

Photo by Grant Maiden

Bill Manhire lives in Wellington. He has just published a new book, Some Things to Place in a Coffin (Victoria University Press, 2017), and a collection of poetry riddles, Tell Me My Name, set to music by Norman Meehan. The Stories of Bill Manhire appeared last year.

Bill comments: ‘Emily Dickinson’s editors like making indexes of words and subjects, maybe because she never gave her poems titles. Love and (especially) Death are the busiest topics in her poetry, so they also rule the roost in this poem.’

Poem source details >


Bills Victoria University Press author page
Bill’s New Zealand Book Council writer file  

Short film of Bill’s poem ‘Known unto God’ 
Bill reading ‘Indexing Emily’