Kevin Murphy

Lecturer, Literatures in English
School: School of Humanities and Sciences

Ellen Tucker Emerson, 1811-1831

Ellen Tucker Emerson, 1811-1831

"I visited Ellen's tomb & opened the coffin"
Journals, March 29, 1832

February 13, 1831

Wife, you've left me near blind
in this black ditch. There's nothing
to loose the knot which pulls
the skin from every thought I mold.
I no longer see your face, your shape
in the shape of trees, in the mist growing
inward from the lake, in the dark rope
of clouds twisting before the static sun.
I know this is only a passing,
and these words are as real, or more,
to you as they are to me,
but for five days now, clapped in flesh,
I've thought hard on spirit.
I can't eat: all food is bile,
and the stench of green pine stings the air.
My fingers reflex blankly
from the stream where we sat,
and the water, falling helpless
through its shroud of snow, wears,
pollutes my skull with din.
My only rest is the empty sky,
first blue, then gray, then black:
wrapped within its sleeveless reach
I know we are as we were.

September 26, 1831

Nelly, I choke on responsibilities:
two brothers mad, another clamoring
for money in New York, and each week
a sermon for the church. There's no time
to remember except at night
and you know the beasts I've seen.
Your mother brought your letters.
I see you still nineteen, still ready,
still confident in me. Your words,
like mine, make you live, and again
this world's a skein of dream
thrown over the westering light.
Today I ate fourteen ounces of food.
I think they've all forgotten you.

 March 29, 1832

Before I came here today you know
the times I lay by your side to hasp
our ghosts like words and things.
But just a corpse, there's so much
less of you: your clothes
are shadowed bags, your bones already
shove the failing face aside.
These thirteen months I've spent
with you burst like bloated fruit
and I've nothing in my hands
but hands. I'll write no more.
Your box snaps shut like an empty purse
but I'll sue your family for all that's left.