Emily Dickinson—Dashed

Illustration of Emily Dickinson talking to tech support
Illustration by Barbara Kelley

Professional funny person Alexandra Petri ’10, who lightens up the pages of The Washington Post (and occasionally these pages: see harvardmag.com/petri-18), has confected a new book: A[lexandra] P[etri’s] U.S. History: Important American Documents (W.W. Norton, $27.95). Lest overzealous high-schoolers memorize them, note that all originate in her imagination. As this sample shows, she is no slouch at nailing other people's styles.

Emily Dickinson Chats with Tech Support

Derek: Hi, there! Thank you so much for contacting customer support, Emily! How can I help?

Emily: I Cannot Write In Sentence  Case
I Look—to You—for Aid
And If—I Rest—My Hands
Upon the Keys—A Dash is   Made
I do not Mean—to Write
Like This—It is no Proper Hand
Why it Inserts—such Dashes
I Cannot Understand
I Wish—to write Words— Normally

Derek: Hey Emily! I’m so sorry for the keyboard issue. It sounds like a hardware problem.

Emily: Dear Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Says—I Have Got—A Style
But I don’t Mean to Have  A—Style
I need my—Keyboard Fixed

Derek: I’m going to need you to turn your machine off and on again.

Emily: Having it Once Turned Off
Can I—Be Sure—It Will Return?
I fear Much to Dispatch It to
That Undiscover’d Bourne

Derek: This is just a standard thing we tell everyone to do with their machines and should not be a problem, Emily!

Emily: I shall Attempt—
To Dispatch It—
Into this Silent Realm
Beyond where—Mousy Tooth  may Gnaw
Or Rust and Moth Consume

Derek: Emily, have you restarted your machine?

Emily: I have Emerged from  Joysome—Death

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