Teaching Emily Dickinson in Beirut

Averill Curdy

I’m Nobody! Who are You?
Are you Nobody too?

Even shorn of its dashes and tamed for children, the poem
speaks from their textbook with the wisdom of the doll.

Though these kids know the distant fire of a machine gun
sounds just like their Tayta in the kitchen shuffling cards

for solitaire. We live inside a pool of light of such heat
the darkness beyond us is intense, expansive as that silence

the doll lives in. A precocious few pretend they’re not afraid
of the dark, imitating parents and teachers impatient to reassure

with an answer to every question, like my husband’s uncle,
still wearing the slick nylon shirts of his heyday, enlightening me

about America’s covert engineering of the global economic collapse.
My cheeks ached from smiling and I hoped he couldn’t see

how every word shouted his hot anxious wish to be symmetrical,
complete, like the swan carried by its own reflection. Or maybe

like a god, without border or accident, every wire visible to him.
At least once a day the power goes out. Just after I’ve finished

restoring the poet’s dashes on the chalkboard, I hear the silence
breathing upon us from space as we sit in the dark, together,

suddenly shy, but also equal in our shared sense of precarity
while we tarry with the unintelligible long enough for me

to realize—between the crack of a knuckle—and eternity—
I don’t need to tell them what the dash means.

Averill Curdy is the author of Song & Error. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The New Criterion, The Gettysburg Review, among others. She lives in Chicago and teaches at Northwestern University.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021


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