Emily Dickinson was a part of my household ever since I can recall. She was introduced to me quite dramatically. My mother, with her omnipresent distant look, would suddenly begin to recite the famous poetry as though taking inspiration from some preternatural cue. I understood that a transmigration was occurring, although it was hard to pinpoint the direction. At times, it seemed Emily was contacting my mother, giving her a phantom tap on the shoulder, indicating she would like to hear one of her poems recited in earth time. Sometimes it seemed that my mother reached out to Emily. Nodding as though in acknowledgement of a cosmic contract, my mother would begin to utter the poet’s odd but mesmerizing verse. It appeared to me that when she recited from memory, my mother left the confines of the dinner table and withdrew to the nineteenth century to have contact with the poet from Amherst. It was through this penchant of my mother’s that I developed a bit of a sense of poetry but, perhaps even more, a sense of history. Although my usual sense of the passing of time was marked by the typical events in the life of a young boy (first day of school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on), when my mother spontaneously broke into verse, the effect was like that of being transported in a time machine. Years later, a professor of mine claimed the most radical form of distance learning was the book for it could transport one across time, not merely space.
But experiencing my mother’s sojourns was much more conspicuous than quietly reading century-old poetry to oneself. Through the spoken word, I felt the past entering the present. The effect was mesmerizing, as though there was ...
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...owing me a book she had won for receiving the English prize in her high school. It was The Collected Plays of James Barrie. I asked her who he was, and she told me that he had written Peter Pan. At the time, I was a bit disappointed to find that out. I had thought the flying boy had just always been there. But no. He was the creation of the flight of an author’s imagination. After my initial disappointment, though, I became aware that plays and books and poems didn’t come from nowhere, but from people who had the ability to tap into their creativity and give it shape. Through dozens of dinner table encounters, my mother helped me realize something about human nature and inventiveness. A setting that respects the roles of both imagination and reality makes the world a more rewarding and interesting place. Such a setting bears an eerie resemblance to Never Never Land.
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