A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

Who Reads Emily Dickinson?

January 25, 2010

Will one day come when we will all rebel against this fast pace of technology, Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, and text messaging? Will there be one day when we will all run around barefoot and naked and paint our bodies like the Masai tribe, whom, when I lived in Nairobi, Kenya, I would see around their huts, playing the drums and jumping with their spears, tall, lean and light? Will there be one day when we absolutely refuse the fast paced life, when we will all carry a book of poems by Emily Dickinson, lay around under the shade of the trees, and read her somber poetry?

I did not grow up here in America, therefore the slower-paced life of reading books is very familiar to me.

I grew up in Iran. When I was little, my sisters and I played with the rag dolls our mother had made for us. And, starting from a very young age, we also read a lot of books. Reading books was like a virus that was transferred to us by my father, and my father had caught it from my uncle, and my uncle had caught it from my grandfather. In fact, it seemed like everyone we knew had the virus, for all the relatives and friends and families who came to our house read a lot of books.

So, books were important, and actually you could say that our whole house was infested with them. They were everywhere: on shelves along the walls, in closets, on desks, on table tops, and sometimes even behind furniture. In fact, all in our family were writers, and most of the friends who came to our house were poets and writers.

We even expressed our love and hurt and anger with poetry, and we celebrated every occasion with books and poetry—like many people celebrate with food and music. My father would teach me how to read a poem and encourage me to memorize it. Once I did, he would prize me for it. And once a month, when he gathered all his writer and poet friends at our house for a reading, he would call his three young doubters, his children, so they could read the poems they had memorized and amaze and challenge his guests.

Poetry is a very important part of Iranians’ lives and culture. For years this has been their way of passing on messages of hope and wisdom to one another. For years this has been their way of communicating: through these classic lines that everyone knows by heart. You can even see these poems written in public places like buses, taxis, and marketplaces.

In the afternoons, all the offices, stores, and schools in town would close for a few hours and everyone would rush home to have lunch and take an afternoon nap. The whole town would be as quiet as a ghost town, except for the man who sold ice from his donkey saddle. He would announce his arrival by shouting “Ice! Ice! Ice!” My father would come home for lunch and, afterward, lie down for his afternoon nap. I would sit beside him and, while combing his hair or scratching his back, read him stories I had written, all with amazing imaginary characters that experienced the most unbelievable things. I would tell him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and write many, many books.

On summer evenings, my two sisters and I would sometimes go by the river to buy vanilla ice cream. We would walk along the river and exchanged notes on the books we had read. We had already finished reading all the classics: German, Russian, French, and English. We loved Kafka, Dostoevsky, Balzac, and especially Jane Austen. We always tried to compare the characters we knew from the books to our friends and people in our neighborhood. We lived in a world of our fantasies, not ever having a TV or other influences—a very simple life.

Emily Dickinson by Mahvash Mossaed

Of all the women in the world and all the places in the world,
I saw Emily Dickinson today in the locker-room of my gym!
At first I could not believe it—
I was not even sure if she was dead or alive.

Her skin was pale her lips were thin
And she had some of the largest hips I had ever seen.

Having a white towel wrapped around her,
Standing on the scale,
Probably thinking of her new diet.

Passing by me in a hurry she stepped on my toe.
She did not even notice.
She did not even look at me,
She did not even apologize!

I said “Ouch!” and made a frown
And murmured behind her,
“You mad, clumsy, big-hipped
18th century poet!”

1268 by Emily Dickinson

Confirming All who analyze
In the Opinion fair
That Eloquence is when the Heart
Has not a Voice to spare—

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Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews |

One Response to “Who Reads Emily Dickinson?”

  1. wilma van mierlo says:

    I enjoy reading your stories!
    thank you for sharing!
    I love books too, so much… create my own atmosphere, peaceful and quiet and away from the noises that tv makes etc.

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