‘A Pit — but Heaven over it –‘ (1712)

Emily Dickinson in her own words

Colin Gee

Striding to the edge of my property, leaving all that mutters and whines at me behind the mothering curtains of our two-storey Main Street mansion, I concealed myself behind a brake and some shrubs and stared into the pit — into the sky that stretched above the pit.

‘A Pit,’ I mused, ‘but Heaven over it.’

I got dizzy looking into the sky and had to grab onto a branch on the tree to keep from slipping into the pit. The branch I clung to for dear life. A Branch — and Earth under it, I chuckled to myself. The world spun, and swung, and was still. I released the blarney bark, yet sap there was upon my palm.

‘To dream,’ I cried, in ecstasy, ‘to sap the Prop / That holds my chances up.’

I pictured my chances: a hundred to zero that I could ever survive this pit if I fell in. Would I fall into the pit?

I tried to wipe the sap from my hand with a clump of leaves. It would not come off. I got some of it off, but there was a basic layer that stuck to the skin between the lines of the palm — between the place where my road split unto the very gate of the perilous, unspoken chance. I opened and closed my hand, watching the skin stick to skin. There was both exasperation and terror in my expression, I imagined, for soon there would be no skin left — I would just be bones and dust.

‘You f***ing shit Prop,’ I screamed, kicking at the branch, to which however not even my knee would reach. Then I caught sight of the pit again.

‘Ah! Pit!’ I exclaimed, clasping both hands to my slender perky bosom, gazing into the utter depths of it. ‘A Pit — with Heaven over it!’

I looked into the pit and tried to calculate how deep it was. From where I was standing behind the tree I thought it might be three, four feet deep. Placing my hand upon the trunk of tree — a slender, non-entity tree, with dead fig leaves out of a Bible of outrage and fruitless passion — I reached with some hesitation into the pit with one of my black shoes, kind of dangled there, almost losing my balance. I strained to touch the bottom with my toe, but could not.

W-wa Jeziorki: First inklings of the end of summer in Jeziorki
A Pit with Heaven over it

Getting both feet back down, I backed up a step and sat my sweet ass down on the ground. Must be six feet deep, this pit, I mused. Beyond, above, around — askance, out of an eye, I saw the sky.

Then I asked myself who in God’s name had dug this pit. I looked over my shoulder with narrowed eye — saw the living room curtain move suspiciously at one corner, and be still.

‘Who dug thee, Pit? Ah, Pit!’ I moaned, kicking little clods of dirt over the edge with both feet going so that the pit made a scratchy little mini avalanche or slide into the bottom. Far, far to the bottom — I cocked an ear and heard the clods kick and bounce upon the bottom.

Next I took a stick and, wriggling forward on my belly until I got to the edge, I reached it down, down into the pit space. You would be terrified if you knew how deep ran the pit in our backyard, Susan, I hissed between clenched teeth. Fathoms down I reached — furlongs with stick in hand, yet bottom never felt.

Looking back I saw Susan peering out at me from behind one side of the house. I pretended not to see her — got up and brushed the grass and dust from my hard little body. I flexed one arm through my dress and pretended to kiss it — pursed my lips in full view of the house.

Clucking — bucking — death, Susan. Whose Doom to whom?

A Pit — a handy little Pit.

I turned and trotted back towards the porch with determination in eyes that had seen baby horses cut down by lightning — mama spiders cannibalized by their children — Susan’s head on a platter in a thousand fantasies.

She should have supper on by now, I guessed.

A Pit — but Heaven over it —

Emily Dickinson

A Pit — but Heaven over it —

And Heaven beside, and Heaven abroad,

And yet a Pit —

With Heaven over it.

To stir would be to slip —

To look would be to drop —

To dream — to sap the Prop

That holds my chances up.

Ah! Pit! With Heaven over it!

The depth is all my thought —

I dare not ask my feet —

‘Twould start us where we sit

So straight you’d scarce suspect

It was a Pit — with fathoms under it —

Its Circuit just the same.

Seed — summer — tomb —

Whose Doom to whom?