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Superiority to fate
Is difficult to learn.
‘T is not conferred by any,
But possible to earn

A pittance at a time,
Until, to her surprise,
The soul with strict economy
Subsists till Paradise.

—Emily Dickinson (#1081)


“The art is not the person,”
says a writer I adore
as much for his career
as what he pens in crevices
between celebrity. It’s hard to take
oneself un-serious at every turn
and still enchant, and not keep
fan-slaves penned out back, whipped
to not admit your writing’s fit to burn.
Superiority to fate is difficult to learn.

Today is garbage day, so I’ve thrown
out a metaphor gone saggy at the knees:
the one about reflections—I’m a mirror,
you’re a mirror, everywhere a mirror,
mirror—fairest, squarest, cock-a-doodle—
worst excuse there is for taciturn
refusal to let go of people,
places, memories that grind you down.
The healthy, gorgeous self discerns;
‘tis not conferred by any, but possible to earn.

I knew this guy shortlisted
for a Pulitzer who spent his days,
not writing but elbowing those, like me,
who didn’t care much for his work.
He didn’t win; contracts dried up
and so did he—before my eyes,
from plum to prune he shriveled. Chasing
markets, dangling your pretty bits are yard sales
of the pseudo-soul that, masquerading, dies
a pittance at a time, until to her surprise

she learns she never had to try
so hard, except—oh, damn!—the writer’s dead.
Your option, if you’re serious and not
just putzing for applause is to die alive
to expectation of the muddled kind. Pay full
attention to determination to feel better. Size
up that in words—begin, if need be, with,
Once upon a time… “True enough” will
fast become your truth. From shining eyes
the soul with strict economy subsists till Paradise.


I’ve borrowed a two stanza verse from Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) to write a glosa, a poetry form that first appeared in the courts of medieval Spain. Strictly speaking, glosas originate from quatrains, but Emily’s work is far too electric to fall nicely into brick-shaped lines. So, I rearranged her eight to four, allowing that she often wrote on envelopes and curved around into margins, and probably wouldn’t mind.

If the glosa form intrigues you, you can find a whole book of them written by my heteronym Alain C. Dexter, here.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013