Three Poems by Jane Satterfield

The Brontë Badasses

are up to here with their aunt’s old-time religion,
their brother’s boozy brawls. They’ll walk miles
in unhip boots, unfazed by hail or funnel clouds,
slinging sweet iambics to help them keep the pace.
Anne’s irked past words with nannying and given in
her notice—good riddance to the coked-up
financier and his straying wife, the schoolboy
stoning sparrows, the chronic cleaning up.
She’s breathing freer now that a Gothic cross heaves
between her breasts. Some nights she leads
kitchen karaoke, is not above canoodling
in the crypts with her father’s curate. Charlotte downs
a dirty chai to plot another romance novel.
She’ll lock the doors and justify their genius,
rifling through her sisters’ desks. She’s no ordinary
busybody, just looking for a pen. Her love letters
to her old prof are full of pretty filthy stuff—
submissive dreams and words like whips. Emily’s
an insomniac, works from dusk ’til dawn and still
finds time for pistol practice—survivalism calls.
When hailed to play piano, she’ll unleash a dark
fugue on unwitting guests and call her hawk
down with a whistle—watch out, she’ll throw
red wine in your face. Beguiling cocktails?
They can’t even. Their laughter sets the house
abuzz as any hive. They go commando when
they can, in town or on the primrose path.

Emily’s Apocrypha

Wafting across the moors in a cloud of Yorkshire mist, the so-called sphinx of English literature has acquired almost supernatural status. The absences surrounding her have made her all the more magnetic and some colorful apocrypha has emerged to fill the gaps.
—Lucasta Miller, The Brontë Myth

did not include the dour black plumage
of today’s lashing rain, though the hills
in her time and town would have rung

with a similar hammering sound,
worsening wind erasing horizons
and heather. Did not include the whirl

of sirens, though maybe you’d have heard
the purring cat curled up to the grating’s
edge while embers alternately flared

and cooled. Moor walker and maybe
mystic who knew a book might be an index
of birds, maybe amid a brother’s intemperate

rage, Emily Brontë watched a spider cross the flagstone
floor, ink-thick in its advance, retreat;
reckoned that a pistol’s kickback

is nothing next to the heart’s: torqued
muscle pumping its own fugue.
Linnet, skylark, curlew, cuckoo; lapwing

with rainbow feathers and furling crest,
merlin of the steel grey eye—
You did know the world of tearing talons,

poacher’s traps, what cruelty in man
begets. Sometimes you spoke too frankly
but mostly held your tongue, tired out at teas,

with social calls. Village paths gave or didn’t
beneath those scruffy boots.
You were no small-town sibyl, stitching

stuttered measures from some divine source.
Nor did you die on an ebony horsehair-filled couch
several inches short of your lanky height.

If good sense demanded a fire iron
across your arm to seal a sheepdog’s bite,
you wore its flaming sigil, and if a spray

of flour hung in the kitchen’s heat,
it shone as moments, marginalia, scrawled
notes stashed in a locked desk box,

your mastiff crouched nearby,
becalmed though still a beast,
held at bay like a devouring flame.

Reading Emily Brontë by Long Island Sound

Life is short & art is all & the day is dazzling,
a glassine surface,

the clouds a mottled counterpane. The view
splays blue, ring-billed gulls parse the tide.

No lark or heather-bells,
just pages where the seasons swing.

You walked away from village chatter,
toward the waterfall’s campaign,

up moorland hills where a wind beat
a path through grass. Such license in stolen

afternoons where you saw hidden constellations—
the silver trail of snails, a fistful

of bees roused from sleep. Your dress was a welter
of thunder clouds and lighting bolts—

Today I’m gauze and flutter sleeves. Would you
say the here and now’s a horizon

to eternity? An ancient ice-sheet engineered
this estuary, a sheltered

tide that slows the pulse—one mercy
in a warming season.