This will not begin the way you expect.
Begin here, a touch along collarbones.
In the winter of 2008 I was deeply depressed. I was working at a university in central Pennsylvania and had just had my first book accepted for publication, and I was sure I would never write again. I ran for hours on the treadmill to escape, but when I stopped I was still trapped in my body, still trapped in a foot of snow.
The only channel on TV that got decent reception was PBS, so I watched it. Cooking shows. Documentaries on dogs. Pledge drives. Bob Ross. And an adaptation of Jane Eyre.
I had read it in college. I had liked Jane then, had written essays comparing Bronte’s text to Wide Sargasso Sea,and had promptly forgotten everything about it. This time, in midwinter, I watched this adaptation on PBS and returned to the text.
I retyped the entire thing.
What I found was a narrative beneath the narrative that I hadn’t seen before: this was a simmering sub/Dom relationship. The language proved it; the catastrophic force of the natural world bubbled up in Jane, in Rochester, and their want making them animals. It played out in the Nature specials after each installment: Flight and capture. Submission. Screaming mating rituals. Like to like.
Jane’s bowed head, her service. Rochester’s meticulous control.
I wrote many poems mining this tension. My Jane’s voice was all hamstrung fury until she turned into a yelloweyed carrion bird and pecked out Rochester’s liver. For his part, Rochester wandered the garden limbo like a shade, eyeballs scooped from his face and replaced with silver coins.
The servants watched from high windows.
The necessity of Rochester’s injuries to the success of the love story fascinated me, and I found it chilling to explore how he still controls Jane even after she is independent. On Encroaching Blindness came, originally, from there. I used as many nonvisual sensory images from Jane Eyre as gripped me during rewriting and did a lot of closing my eyes as I walked around or laid in the grass outside. By then it was spring, and then summer.
I learned the word haptic.
I moved to Wisconsin. I moved back east. I missed my home. I realized I’ve never had any pictures in my apartments. I wished for someone to stay with me despite despite despite. I grew to see Rochester’s point of view. It wasn’t as dark as I expected; I wanted and I wanted control. The lightbulb was an image I wrote in the margin of the eighth draft. It wasn’t Victorian at all. I let it go.
A month later, I began again. I rewrote the poem with the best of what had come before, beginning with the lightbulb, a whiteout. The voice was new. The place was new. The blindness I’d experienced in previous versions came with me.
This poem took a long time. People are born, learn language, attend second grade in the time it took me to finish and publish it. What can I say? It was locked in the attic for a long while.
Share this work on: