The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award - 2022
Gale Marie Thompson
It seems important to know the name
of this smallish mountain. What cleave could take me on,
wounded in an under-the-porch way, still marked
with the blueprint of a predator: feet sleek, evolved to mimic
the prey it longs for. Like how the feet of foxhounds
resemble those of foxes. In March I ask a neighbor,
is there another side to this gap? Am I on the wrong mountain?
I see no evidence of when the laurel blooms, just leaf
after leaf in the forever present. I search for Bosnian recipes
on the internet, watch as the bellflowers
plait their way through the glossy dog shit of my yard.
Mine is a ground problem. Nothing to do
with the mountain I moved to. The dog screams
with the fox as if full of holes blown clean. I cut off
my sleeves. There is no one on the other side.
My friends are sick, and I will never know.
Jenny Xie on Gale Marie Thompson
Riddled with moments of self-estrangement, “The Divide” both pursues, and falls silent before, the limits to our modes of knowing. Steaming from the surface of the poem's deceptive austerities— finely sculpted lines, unsparing sight—is Dickinson’s inexhaustible appetite for the unanswerable and for forms of surrender that might narrow those vast distances between the corporeal and the spiritual, the material and the metaphysical.
“The Divide” commences on a note of guarded trust, one fixed on pinning down a certainty: “It seems important to know the name / of this smallish mountain.” Yet, swiftly, declaration gives ground to epistemic doubt, as the poem tautly maps the quest to see what is beyond—whether there lies “another side to this gap.” In the vein of Dickinson, who believes “Behind the hill is sorcery / And everything unknown,” the solitary speaker of “The Divide” draws boundless energy reaching after the deep mysteries that inhere in Otherness. And how vitally alive and strange is this Otherness, which remains unlanguaged: “The dog screams / with the fox as if full of holes blown clean.”
What makes itself known, of course, is that absence of knowing: those immeasurable distances between ourselves and others, between asymmetric griefs and joys. “The Divide,” in its startled vision, bows speechlessly before them.