May Swenson’s “Daffodildo,” from our Summer 1993 issue, is an erotic-nature-poem-cum-tribute to Emily Dickinson, whom she intimately refers to as “Emily.” The poem, conveniently set on May 1, finds the narrator touring Dickinson’s home and visiting her grave. It takes a hard look at the distance between a person and a persona, while subtly teasing out a latent eroticism in Dickinson and the objects she’s left behind.
In an elegiac homage of sorts, Swenson channels her best Dickinsonian slant rhyme and cadences, as evidenced in the first few lines:
A daffodil from Emily’s lot
I lay beside her headstone
on the first day of May.
another with me, threaded
through my buttonhole, the spawn
of ancestor she planted
I trod her lawn.
Swenson’s poem sees Dickinson’s ghost everywhere, a cipher, something much more sensual than the scratchy white linen and blank, disinterested face that an uninitiated reader might associate with the poet. In Dickinson’s home, she notes the elderly docent’s “New England pug- / face” as she’s guided through the house, Dickinson’s ephemera paraded before her: “she soaked her gowns in this square / copper boiler on hot bricks,” says the docent. As the poem goes on, lines from Dickinson begin to wind their way in, blurring the speaker’s exterior and interior worlds. After seeing the poet’s tiny chair, Swenson writes, “‘An awe came on the trinket,’ / one article her hand / would have known all / its life.”—giving a charge of intimacy to the object with Dickinson’s own words.
At the poem’s end, after the speaker places “One gold dildo”—a daffodil—near Dickinson’s headstone, she addresses “Emily” directly, while borrowing, again, lines from a poem, this time “Of Bronze—and Blaze.” And now the erotics are out in full force:
breast I kiss
this vow, Emily, to “take
attitudes—and strut upon my stem.”
“Daffodildo” was found among Swenson’s unpublished poems and stories after she died in December 1989. Read the whole poem here, and usher in what’s been called “the lusty month of May.”