The Only Portrait of Emily Dickinson

The straight neck held up out of the lace
is bound with a black velvet band.
She holds her mouth the way she chooses,
the full underlip constrained by a small muscle.

She doesn’t blink or look aside,
although her left eye is considering
a slant. She would smile
if she had time, but right now

there is composure to be invented.
She stares at the photographer.
The black crepe settles. Emerging
from the sleeve, a shapely hand

holds out a white, translucent blossom.
“They always say things which embarrass
my dog,” she tells the photographer.
She is amused, but not as much as he’d like.

Irene McKinney, “The Only Portrait of Emily Dickinson” from Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976-2004. Copyright © 2009 by Irene McKinney. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.
Source: Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976-2004 (Red Hen Press, 2009)