“I Fear Me This – Is Loneliness -”

I have a new poem up at Spillwords today. You can find the link below, but first, some background.

While sheltering from COVID exposure last winter, I was able to hear the neighbor children playing in the park after a new snowfall. From my study window, I could see them fashioning a sled run down a small hill. I recalled how the reclusive Emily Dickinson would lower baskets of baked goodies down to her neighborhood children from her bedroom window. I felt a connection to her as I pondered my own seclusion. I felt her loneliness.

I thought about how increasingly reclusive she became due to grief from the loss of loved ones, the mounting household duties while caregiving to her ailing mother and the loss of help, and dealing with her own health issues, Bright’s Disease, which she suffered from for two and a half years, and hypertension, which led to her death. There is speculation that she may have also had epilepsy and agoraphobia.

It was during her seclusion that she was her most productive. From 1858 to 1865, she created forty fascicles (small, hand sewn booklets), which contained around eight hundred poems. She also composed the mysterious “Master Letters” from 1858-1860. Throughout her life, Dickinson wrote many letters, about 1000. And nearly 1800 poems were discovered after her death. Hence, my reference in my poem to the “pearly shells” of “snail mail”.

While I am a poet, I’m not nearly as prolific or as skilled as Dickinson. However, I empathize with her reclusive behavior and productivity during her most extreme seclusion. Mine stems mainly from the pandemic, and even now, it is difficult to coax me from my safe house. However, like Emily, it was during this pandemic “lock down” that I was able to compile and publish my first poetry collection, Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF – Experiments in Fiction, 2022). I began writing these poems after Mom’s death in 2016. The course Memoir Writing Ink, which went online at the start of the pandemic, helped me to organize the poems. (Check out my blog for several posts about my book.)

Also, both Emily and I were caregivers to our ailing mothers. My mother died from complications due to Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with in 2003, and Dickinson’s mother suffered a stroke, which paralyzed her. Emily and her sister cared for her for seven years until her death in 1882.

For both Dickinson and myself, the seclusion was gift that “opened many doors” as I say at the end of my poem. While Dickinson didn’t live to see the success of her life work, there is no doubt that her poetry is a portal to the deepest regions of poetic expression touching so many hearts that she now has a loyal following and is renown as one of America’s most popular poets of all time. In my case, taking up my pen literally opened doors for me with the book publication, new friendships made online, and now a role as editor of an online literary magazine called MasticadoresUSA.

(I referred to Wikipedia and general online sources for a recall of facts and dates.)

I invite you to read my poem in Spillwords.


Unfortunately, my footnotes failed to come through in my submission, so I’m including the footnoted text in this post. Although the sourcing is clear here, the format is totally lost. To show the comparisons, the stanzas about me were indented. The lines in each stanza should be single-spaced with a double space between stanzas.

I Fear Me This – is Loneliness –

            -Emily Dickinson, “The Loneliness One dare not sound-”[1]

Emily, you sought your solitude

at your desk by a bedroom window,
composing poems and letters to the world

that never wrote to you[2].

My room, a solitary sanctuary
with a view to the street.

I compose notes with blessings

to lift others up during this tender time
of ire and illness.

Your seclusion, Emily, chosen
from grief and loss.

Mine, too, as I hear of deaths.
Families felled by COVID.
Strain after strain.

Again and again.

Occasionally you lowered

baked goods in baskets to children

celebrating innocent sun.

I watch children in our neighborhood park
attempt a great escape
down small slopes of ice

to the creek.

Outside your winter sky
hid cold birds in a haze

like the masks we should wear these days
to spare our lives.

You wished to help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again.[3]

At my window daily, a solitary robin

smacks his body into his own reflection.

Repeatedly – My fear of death

mutates into chaos.

For you, Emily,
a garden of grief bloomed
a leather-bound herbarium. Sorrow plucked
and pressed between flimsies.

On my notes and poems, I press stickers
of wildflowers and butterflies. My handwriting
meanders in my tiny gardens of verse

that snail mail delivers to loved ones

in pearly shells.

Our windows – glassy protection from what waits

in the soul’s Caverns and its Corridors

that can Illuminate-or seal-.

As our stars rage their light
into gossamer tears –

our pens open

many doors.


[1] The title and italicized lines from the next to the last stanza are from this poem by Dickinson.

[2] A paraphrase from Dickinson’s poem “This is My Letter to the World”.

[3] From the Dickinson poem “If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking”.

Copyright © 2022 Barbara Harris Leonhard

All Rights Reserved

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Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF-Experiments in Fiction, 2022)

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Divider Image: by GDJ on Pixabay

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