Today, and especially tonight — into the wee-est of the wee hours, the nuns commemorate the birth of one of their favorite poets and mythological muses, Emily Dickinson. The nuns go gaga over birthdays, celebrating to a nunhealthy degree. This, paired with their avid commitment to poetic longing, makes a day like today full of militant expressions of holiday cheer.
In recent years, the mad hatted nuns have taken to celebrating what they call ‘nunbirthdays.’ I think this new tradition is a result of their repressed desires to celebrate their own birthdays, which The Vat strictly prevents them from doing. No nun has ever celebrated her own birthday, sad to say (and part of the reason why I choose to stay probationary). But they make up for it by celebrating ecstatically the births of those they dub honorary nuns, such as Oscar Wilde (the first and most celebrated Honorary Nun), Julia Child, and, Emily Dickinson.
The nuns hold their nunbirthday celebrations and give out “transcendent nun for a day” privileges. These privileges vary, depending on the given idol, but the nuns have exquisite taste in idols so you can be sure the privileges are directly related to facts and lore surrounding the life of the icon. Oh, and I must clarify: the nuns only celebrate the birthdays of the culturally-immortal deceased. They do this to justify their extravagance because they say it brings them closer to their eternal destination: divine afterlife with Our Heavenly Fahther. And, admirably, they do it on a nun budget (with immense imagination and meager monetary expenditure).
Since the “Birthday Nun” cannot be present in the flesh, the nuns make sure s/he is present in the spirit. The spirit of Oscar, for instance, always shows up in style and makes a dramatic entrance, holding a stiff white glove to an apparitional head and feigning fainting upon arrival at the annual October 16th celebration in honor of Sistrrr Wilde!
Not all guests-of-honor are so chic. For instance, Julia Child howls and yelps, keeled over her apron like lion-tamed camel. And, Emily, oh Emily. Today Emily came in with her splendidly grim, muddled face of shadows, looking like a charcoal painting that had been stuffed under a mattress. We were enamored, especially me, and I wanted to smudge my fingers all over her but I, unlike some poets, know how to practice the art of restraint.
Anyway, a nunbirthday, you should be aware, is somewhere between a birthday and an unbirthday– it’s not yours but you treat it like it’s yours. It’s more liminal than Lewis Carroll, if that’s possible (it is, according to the nuns’ in-residence neologist– aka me!).
Though certainly no competition with Our Lady Emily’s birthday, December 10th also marks an important symbolic holiday that the nuns have never heard of: Human Rights Day. I have told them and they still will not hear of it. You see, I tried to tell them about this at Mo(u)rning Reading Circle (you guessed it: we were reading Dickinsonian Theory), but the nuns refuse to believe that such things pertain to them.
YOU ARE HUMAN, NUNS, I said. But this did not work, for they only replied:
We’re nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
I even went so far as to suggest that the day was meant for the nuns, too, so that they could, for one day, see themselves as human, but they –with their chastising commentary on the irony of a Sistrrr Grim not recognizing how dreary it is to be somebody– meh’d me back into silence and my demarcated spot on the nun rug (hex marks it, Readrrr), and it wasn’t but two seconds after that we were all back into another lengthy Dickinsonian incantation.
I, probationary nun that I am, am terrible with anything that involves memorization of any kind, though I make up for it infinityfold in invention. So I rely on the real-deal nuns when it comes to recitation. Fortunately for me, when it comes to resuscitational recitation, the nuns cannot be beat. They are world-class champions in ‘the rote’, and they should be, for that’s what they’ve been doling out in the classroom all these years.
They are most excellent pronouncers– as formidable in their recitation of poetry as they are avid in their reading of it. Today they exhausted themselves, showing off their oral wares, in honor of The One For Whom Death Stopped.
To keep the nuns well-fed during their hours-long festival, I -as Wicked Witch of The Kitsch-en, provided them with an array of yule logs. So what if they were real. So what if they were faux real. The nuns licked and swallowed my yule logs until they were no more.
I made forty five yule logs for my nuns. Most were made of vegetables and fruit and cheese, because I care about the health and happiness of my nuns, but there were a few of the dessert variety– I also care about stuffing my nuns, Readrrr, with cake, so I can admire and appreciate how cakey the nuns become. Mmm.
Little sums up nun life better than sac(k)rifice, and I was determined to charm and delight their collective palate and satisfy their nunquenchable cravings for this one day. I think I made Head MoFa (or MoFo, as is my preferred acronym) proudst. I even saved HeMoFo my last and best bit of bûche de Noël, and she ate it all up, while the nuns were chanting, “more bûche, more bûche!” We had a jolly time, you would agree.
So jolly a time it was that I became a bit nunhinged and, while the nuns were gorging on my logs, I told them two stories. Let me start with the longer of the two: the one about how Billy Collins came to do a reading at my old (very wealthy and well-reputed) stomping grounds, The Friary Priory, and how this, his reading, caused me to buy a collection of his poems, which were enjoyable on the whole but which, in turn, brought me to his rape poem about Emily Dickinson.
Oh, did I say that! Not to the nuns and not to you: you didn’t hear it readrrr. You didn’t hear it…from me.e.
But listen: not much irks me more than a literally-shiny, glorified humorist poet laureate with a penis inserting his dominance into the Sapphic world of Emily Dickinson and, then, being lauded by poets everywhere for trying to penetrate the separatism evoked by her work.
Sure, an old white baldy with a pen can dream in chauvinistic character and, I’m sure, do whatever he pleases, but it becomes personal for me when a woman –so important to women’s hystory and as brainy as Emily Dickinson– is stripped of her intelligence and reduced to a tippet of tulle for some male-gazer who is using a rape fantasy to appeal to his elite audience of peers. I will do the conjecturing to which Mr. Collins failed: and I will suggest that Emily Dickinson, if she were a time traveler – which she most certainly is, does not wish to aid in the glorification of heteronormative poetry nor in the hierarchical institution of “poetry.”
Was Emily Dickinson sitting in her room, waiting for her prince to come? No. What the? NO. And that prince most certainly was not Mr. Billy Collins, or one of his characters. Collins did do a nice job appropriating her words, at the very end of the poem; alas, he’s a criminal for he miss-told the tale of what happened in that mythic bedroom (I’ve written a poem about this, but it’s locked under my bed).
Here he wrote:
So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset
But if that, indeed, happened, then he misquoted himself at the end of the poem, for in truth the story ended like this:
and I could hear her growl when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readrrrs rip up the pages of some poems when they realize
that poets have daggers,
that man’s reasoning is a plank,
that male desire is a loaded gun
that shoots you without ever looking you in the eye.
In other words:
And that was when she slapped me, pulled out a proverbial sledgehammer and a quill the size of Troy, and wrote me back into my place, which was in the corner, with a dunce cap of nightshade teaching me to peep with respect but never to try to break and enter into the bedroom of Sapphic Hisstory again. (Repeat x 100, or until understood.)
(Riding a swan into the night, MY ASS. That swan was homicidal and buried that little bastard with one whalebone whack!)
Do not think I’ve been too hard on Billy, Readrrr. Billy is fine. He is a friend of the nuns; he just has to go back to school for a few […] more years. That poem is simply like the blind man’s blindness: here to show in glory the corrective work of Our Heavenly Lor-ed!
The nuns were like a bunch of neanderthals watching football over this. They hooted, they hollered, they stormed about the abbey, they banged their heads against the stone walls, they crushed Cheesy Poofs into smithereens. Readrrr, I had to run out six cold and creamy traditional yule logs from the refrigerator to get these barbarians to calm down so that I could finish.
My story– diverted quickly, then, into how I acquired my personal collection of Emily Dickinson poems after learning that The Prioress at the Friary Priory, Headmistress/ Head MoFo Shakespeare, had her very own collection of Dick inson. Head Shakes was with me at the Collins Reading, and while Billy was chopping some parsley on the stage, wondering about three blind mice, we were meowing in our seats, knowing exactly how they came to be blind. (And PeanutGalleryReadrrr, Shakespeare is her real name; I know it’s nunbelievable: some are just born great, and then sometimes those born great some have greatness thrust upon them… by a little probationary nun!)
The second story was far less compelling, but the nuns sucked up the cream from my yule logs just the same! No come-plaints! As I told them: Prior to coming to the Shabby Abbey and after being at the Friary Priory, I spent a semester at Dead Head Abbey in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I studied and took a class called Phantastic 19th Century Fiction with a truly wonderful teacher named Sarah Wilburn. Among other phantasmic works, Sarah read The Awakening with me, as well as Carmilla, and the two of us, accompanied by a small group of young scholars, turned into vampires and sucked bloody words from each other’s necks.
Oh, Readrrr! I did not tell that part to the nuns; I merely told them about the course because it took place in a special building called Emily Dickinson Hall. It was a long, peculiar structure, which, to me, always seemed to keep the light out despite having a good number of windows. I call it The Bat House because it was dark and I did a lot of hanging out there, mostly reading on couches and lying on benches listening to sorrowful ballads about by ways that went wrong. The Bat House housed a theater and offices, in addition to coven-like white-box classrooms, and it also had a Luna Bar machine, to which I sold my soul too many times all for the love of the now-discontinued chai variety. Nevertheless, the building was named in honor of Emily Dickinson and that is, in part, because Dead Head Abbey has its fair share of Dickinson devotees, and more, because Dickinson was born in the exquisite town of Amherst, Massachusetts.
The nuns settled in for their nap, during this story, and by the end of it, they were nestled sweetly onto one another laps, hanging like bats, over one another’s rumps and backs. I would have snapped a picture of this, but some nun pulled me down and used me as her personal Emily Dickinson pillow.
It has been a long day of yule-logging and Dickinson-reciting here at the abbey but not so long that I could not hobble over to the nuns’ rooms and leave a gift as a reminder of this fruitful day.
And now I to my hefty volume, and you to yours. My head on my pillow, where:
“I see a vision build
A home of happiness divine
My head on my pillow
With yours close to mine”
I hope the nuns will sleep well and dream more sweetly tonight because their heads were close to the work of Emily Dickinson.