“Then Space – began to toll, // As all the Heavens were a Bell, / And Being, but an Ear,”
My favourite lines in Emily Dickinson’s ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’, the first time I read them, I was struck by imagery of starry galaxies being poured down a golden ear horn, into a waiting ear. Her poetry was dark, and bleak, and yet rhythm and lexical choice had been woven together to produce such simplistic beauty I was inspired.
This inspiration manifested itself during a biology class where the teacher set us several tasks. One of them was to write a poem / rap / song / conversation entitled ‘Doctor – is there anything that can be done about my bronchitis?’ Drawing on Dickinson’s poem, I ended up with this:
I felt bronchitis in my lung,
And Doctors to and fro,
Kept pumping – pumping – till it seemed
That Breath was breaking through – //
And when they all were seated,
The Science, like the Rum –
Kept spewing – spewing – till I thought
My mind was going numb – //
And then I heard them whisper ‘Death’
And a ‘COPD’,
With my damaged tissues and no cure,
Then Time – began to tick //
As Goblet cells were overworked,
And cilia stood Still,
And gathered firm, Bacteria
Cough, barrel chest, the Ill – //
And then a tissue in Lung, broke
And I dropped down, and down –
And lost that Breath, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
I remember my teacher commenting it was an interesting fusion of literature and science, though it could be improved had I mentioned the mucus accumulation that is characteristic of bronchitis. I remember being disappointed. I thought I had captured the subject matter in Dickinsonian style perfectly.
Now, many years on, I am older and (I hope) a little wiser. Though I may read her poetry differently, Dickinson’s rhythm still often resounds in my head, and along with it, the adaptation I once wrote.
Having a working knowledge of the healthcare system though means I now know rum is definitely not as free flowing as my adaptation implied, and so that would be a point for rewrite. Nor is my description of bronchitis as a harsh death sentence the reality of the condition today. But ultimately, the cause of bronchitis has remained the same – a fact I have never once forgotten over the years thanks to the penultimate stanza, and the poet who inspired it.