Emily Dickinson thinks she looks like a kangaroo. I can see the resemblance. The unexpectedness in the eyes, the readiness to leap. Emily Dickinson has caressing lips, tucked for now and always in a pert little smile, content for the time being simply to hint at how one kiss would blow your mind. Her one photograph ever taken covers a crater in my classroom wall, where the stopped clock used to be. I had put her picture up over the stopped clock because I thought Emily would like that, given how much she enjoys leaping through time. Then one day I looked up and the clock was gone but Emily was still there, smiling. Once you got started kissing Emily you’d keep kissing her forever, seriously forever, as in eternity, which is Emily’s home away from home. She writes constantly about getting it on with Mr. Death. It’s really a wonder anyone still dies, because you know Emily is rocking steady with the Grim Reaper right this very moment, draping her skeleton’s gossamer nightgown on the prick of his scythe.
I myself look like Greg Maddux, the crafty Hall of Fame 300-plus game-winner, who also owned the Gold Glove at his position for most of his career. Fielding off the mound is even more underrated than backing up to catch a routine pop fly back of second. There you just have to consider onrushing outfielders, and swirling winds, and just how up those major-league flies go. Sky high. Icarus high. The Mets had a second baseman, Luis Castillo, who dropped one of those flies that would have ended a game against the Yankees, but instead it ended his career. Three-time Gold Glove winner, but Castillo was never the same after that. We have to ask the question—did he hear the fly buzz? We can ask that question but not answer it. All I know is I don’t resemble Luis Castillo at all.
I do resemble Greg Maddux. Round face, glasses, amiable reserve. A kid mistook me once for Greg Maddux in the stands before a game one day. Greg Maddux was the starting pitcher. I could not lie to this kid.
“Yes, I am Greg Maddux,” I told him. “Nothing gets by me. Line drives. Atom balls. Bullets. I got it. Covering first on a slow roller up the line? Do I, unassuming fellow that I am, look like I could beat a jackrabbit to the bag? In all modesty I must say I do this as a matter of course. This is another thing that makes my fielding so extraordinary, how I carry it off with the demeanor of a fellow giving up his seat to a lady with two armfuls of packages on the bus. Which I most certainly would do.”
The kid looks at me and goes, “Are you really Greg Maddux?”
“I really am,” I told him. I can see my reflection right now in that kid’s impressionable pupils. I gave him my autograph, because Greg Maddux and I are essentially the same guy. If you’re having trouble placing us, think Anthony Edwards, soft-spoken hero doctor from the early seasons of ER. Just as that’s me painting the corners for the Cubs, that’s also me bringing character actors you’ve grown to love back from the dead, in a manner Emily Dickinson staunchly approves of. Stone dead one minute, vividly alive the next, going back and forth literally ad infinitum. That’s Emily all over for you. Anthony Edwards even appeared in a late episode of ER after his character, Mark(!) G(!)reene, was long dead. His presence was strongly reassuring.
Anthony, Greg, and I are all just as heroic and indomitable as we are soft-spoken and round-faced. By the way, Anthony Edwards also starred in the very tautly suspenseful movie Miracle Mile, in which he answers a pay phone outside of Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire and the caller hysterically informs him of imminent nuclear apocalypse. They still had pay phones back in those days. Anthony Edwards handles the situation the same way Greg Maddux and I would handle it: very calmly.
There is a third and final person I resemble. I mention it because my own daughter told me this and she has discriminating taste. She does not parse visual stimuli lightly. She told me I look like Keith Haring, eighties art-world darling. Keith Haring became an international art icon on par for a decade with Picasso or Van Gogh in terms of sheer recognizability because of his talent in depicting human beings as squiggles. This is such a particular talent, and he took it beyond the highest possible level of triumph, which is just what you expect from people who look like me. Although I will say Keith had a touch of the guy from the Munch painting “The Scream,” right in there around the cheekbones. He also had a jauntiness that made light of this glint of existential terror, which Greg and Anthony and I keep more subdued, because that’s just our style. With all due respect to my daughter, therefore, I submit to you that the three of us are interchangeable, whereas Keith bears a more startling resemblance. He was one click jauntier and another click more debonair—right up until he died of AIDS in 1990, at the still-peaking height of his fame.
Our consolation is that Keith Haring at this very moment is enjoying the fruits of postmortem erotic rapture with Emily Dickinson. There is no hetero- or homosexuality in the afterlife. There is only the commingling of souls, which is just like good sex here on earth except it lasts and lasts without ever losing its allure. There is so much yearning in the afterlife, and commingling is one of the finest outlets for it, along with being able to totally jam on your instrument of choice. Monk and Coltrane together at Carnegie Hall? That’ll be you when you’re dead, unless Monk and Coltrane are busy with Emily. But even if they are, then you can jam with Jimi at Woodstock or Johann in Brandenburg. No need to worry about it or make reservations in advance. It’ll all be taken care of for you.
I know all of this through close reading of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. She took the trouble during her lifetime to see through space and time and report back to us on her findings. I am simply following up. Emily thinks she looks like a kangaroo. I can see the resemblance.
Mark Gozonsky, an English teacher, has published “The Edith Wharton Inside Me” in Identity Theory and “The Warmth of Vinyl” in Corium. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, and with their twin daughters when they’re not away at college. Mark is a UCLA Writing Project fellow working toward an MFA in creative Writing at Antioch University LA.
“Emily Dickinson Thinks She Looks Like a Kangaroo” appeared in The Literary Review, Scenester