Poem of the Week | December 26, 2016

This week, we feature a new poem by Luke Brekke. Brekke’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New England Review, Denver Quarterly, The Volta, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and was a fellow at The Frost Place this summer. He works for a coffee roastery in Wisconsin.
Author’s note:

I wrote this poem after reading Brenda Wineapple’s book White Heat, which traces the correspondence between Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and eventually their interactions with Mabel Loomis Todd. As one of the primary editors of Dickinson’s work after her death, Todd may be given credit for introducing Dickinson’s poetry to a wider audience, but she has also been duly criticized for the degree to which she marred Dickinson’s poems: altering slant rhymes, smoothing over striking metrical arrangements, and adding titles to poems that were far more potent without them.

Todd spent years traveling through New England delivering talks about her “friend Emily,” though in life the two never met. Dickinson refused to, on account of Todd’s affair with Austin Dickinson, Emily’s brother. The affair troubled Emily for various reasons, not the least of which was her affection for Sue, her sister-in-law. Emily’s letters to Sue are among her most effusive and intimate, and the exact nature of their relationship is still the subject of lively speculation.


Mabel Loomis Todd


I really love your name.
How unfortunate


you had to be a scoundrel.
Today, from my window, I watched


the small hazard of my yard
darken, draw in like a breath


choked –
but I don’t scare.


How much can we keep
pressed in a book?


Botanist of lusts, deception
was your florid mark.


Though I am safe, here
in poetry


with one mouth to kiss and eat.
For us whose affections are afflictions,


until medicine
touches them,


leaves them numb, spoiled –
O Mabel –


friendship is the blade
we keep between our teeth;


and silence, O quiet –
don’t name what’s been left unnamed.