Cemetery Stalker

Posted in service, Uncategorized on October 10th, 2011 by admin – Comments Off on Cemetery Stalker

We paused before a

House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely

visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries –

and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the

Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

-Emily Dickinson, about late 1862 (with her original line breaks); last stanzas of “Because I could not / stop for death”

When I couldn’t find photographs or letters of the Dickinson servants – or other evidences of their having lived or breathed in the high ceiling interior of the Dickinson Homestead – I headed to the cemetery.

No more than fifty feet from the fenced plot, pictured below, where Emily is buried with her parents and sister in West Cemetery, I found the graves of housekeepers, stablemen, gardeners, and others who in some way worked for Emily’s family.

It was a February evening in 2008 and the sun was setting in Amherst when I found the grave of Betty Ann Brown Scott, an African American woman who had cooked for Emily’s famly in the early 1850s.

Not far away were the graves of the Jackson family. Patriarch Henry Jackson, a teamster by trade, made himself indispensable to three generations of Dickinson men.

And Charles Thompson who worked for the Dickinson men, college treasurers, keeping Amherst College boilers stoked and in any number of ways at the Homestead. His wife, also African American, served at Homestead parties.

Others, like laborer Tom Kelley, are buried not far away in a Catholic cemetery in Plainville (Hadley, Massachusetts) established by St. Brigid’s Church of Amherst.

Others still are buried in the Catholic cemetery in Northampton (St. Mary’s Cemetery) like gardener Horace Church’s family and maid-of-all-work Margaret Maher.

Somewhere on the grounds of St. Mary’s are the remains of Irish immigrant Margaret O Brien Lawler, the first long term Dickinson housekeeper.

Margaret O Brien arrived by 1856 when the newly renovated and expanded Homestead – or the Dickinson family’s rise in the world – necessitated help.

She stayed until she married her way out of service, to Stephen Lawler, in October 1865 – to the dismay of one extremely active poet:

Besides wiping the dishes for Margaret, I wash them now, while she becomes Mrs. Lawler, vicarious papa to four previous babes. Must she not be an adequate bride? I winced at her loss, because I was in the habit of her, and even a new rolling pin has an embarrassing element, but to all except anguish, the mind soon adjusts

It took three years but the motivated – and frustrated – writer found a replacement for Margaret O Brien.

Her name was Margaret Maher but Emily Dickinson called her “Maggie.

In fact once Margaret Maher was a fixture of the poet’s household, Emily professed wanting to change her own name, taking her maid’s:

“‘Maggie’ is a warm name. I shall like to take it.”

She died – this was the way she died.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31st, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on She died – this was the way she died.

She died – this was the way she died.

And when her breath was done

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun –

Her little figure at the gate

The Angels must testify,

Since I could never find her

Opon the mortal side.


Betty Murray

24 July 1920 – 31 May 2010

Radio That Makes You Think

Posted in Media, Uncategorized on April 22nd, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Radio That Makes You Think

What do Judy Collins, Geraldo Rivera, John Stossel, Bruce Lipton, Judy Orloff, and Aife Murray have in common?

Give up?

As of Friday, April 23, they all will have been interviewed by Family Therapist and awesome media host David McMillian for his KEEL show Strategies for Living.

The daily hour-long program is dedicated to helping listeners improve their quality of living – body, mind & spirit – in the broadest sense. Strategies for Living goes out to KEEL listeners in Shreveport. Luckily, even if you don’t live in Louisiana, you can link to the podcasts the very same day they broadcast & the archived programs.

By 11 AM central time on April 23, surf in to the daily post where you’ll hear Maid as Muse author Aife Murray and David McMillian discuss Emily Dickinson’s relationship with her maids, laborers, gardeners, and stablemen.

These are the women and men who improved the poet’s quality of life. There are some surprises, though, so tune in to find out how they improved our quality of life!

If your a bookstore doesn’t yet carry Maid as Muse, ask them to!

Ocean & Nutmeg States of Mind

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Ocean & Nutmeg States of Mind

Beautiful Brown Student Madeline Jans-Neuberger with the author

Dateline: Providence 3-17-10

We were joined Wednesday in the Brown Bookstore‘s window-on-the-world-of-Providence by about a dozen new friends of Maid as Muse as well as three long time supporters who housed and fed and cheered Aife in the throes of writing and research: Mary El Finger, Madeline Jans-Neuberger, and Ellie Siegel. Shout out to Bob Geake for this terrific St. Patrick’s Day book event and to Holly Snyder and Tim Engels (and Mark Brown and Elena Rivera before them!) of the John Hay Library whose intelligent care of their important Dickinson collection helped make possible Maid As Muse and so many other advances.

Dateline: Hartford 3-18-10

It was a beautiful sunny late afternoon on Thursday and yet over 40 residents of the Nutmeg State were willing to troop indoors to the wood paneled parlor of the Connecticut Historical Society to hear about Emily Dickinson’s maids and laborers including Henry Hawkins, Horace Church, Margaret O’Brien, Eliza Thompson, and Michael Kelley.

Three guests added to the specialness of this event. We were joined by Mary Favolise, Roberta George, and the father of Cindy and Peter Evans (will add name soon!) who are members of the extended Dickinson servant descendant clans: the Hawkins and Kelley families. A shout out to host Mary Muller and her CHS colleagues, artist & videographer Christine Palm (descendent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s personal maid and Mark Twain’s cobbler), and the inestimable Hank Murray.

Surf’s up in the Ocean State

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Surf’s up in the Ocean State



Riding the book wave

It may be too cold to catch a wave but it’s definitely warm enough to huddle or even cuddle in the Brown Bookstore to get a first bookstore glimpse of Henry Hawkins and Dennis Scannell and Margaret O’Brien and Betty Scott — laborers and maids for Emily Dickinson. “Join them” at 4:00 PM on Thayer Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Get details and become a fan of the book.

Hope to Be “the bomb” in New Haven

Posted in Uncategorized on March 12th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Hope to Be “the bomb” in New Haven

Before Joseph Heller Bombed in New Haven

If Albany Library was the toe in the water, Maid as Muse will be hanging ten in New Haven, CT on Tuesday, March 16 at 6 p.m.

Join us in the main libray at 133 Elm Street, across from the Green where we once lazed in the sun while Ericka Huggins sat behind the court house’s new bullet proof glass for justice to be up-served. Nothing like the mingled scent of tear-gas and marijuana to evoke spring 1970.

So far the author and Joelle Fishman have said Yes! Help us warm the room with your body too. Become a fan.

Emily’s Servants Appear at Albany Library

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Emily’s Servants Appear at Albany Library

This Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m., get a first glimpse of Emily Dickinson’s servants on the big screen. They’ll be the feature at the popular Albany Library’s Tuesday Poetry series. Lots of poetry to be heard and an introduction to Maid as Muse by the author. RSVP to Facebook & become a fan of the book!

Book In the World

Posted in Uncategorized on February 15th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Book In the World

I’ve seen it and it’s beautiful.

The faces of Eliza and Charles Thompson, domestic worker and laborer respectively, adorn the book flaps. The portrait of Margaret Maher, Tom Kelley, and Margaret Kelley, that launched the project, grace the back cover along with a photograph of Tom & Mary Kelley and six of their eight children.

The invisible now making eye contact with the world.

Make the book yours.

Make friends with MAM on Facebook

Peter Orszag & Emily Dickinson – Sexy Nerds

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Peter Orszag & Emily Dickinson – Sexy Nerds

Romeo Orszag

Peter Orszag and Emily Dickinson. He: the whiz kid in the Office of Management and Budget, and she: the versifying brain stationed in her parents’ Amherst, Massachusetts mansion. Both brainiacs with messy personal lives.

Orszag controls his messy life with numbers and neat to-do lists tucked into his breast pocket, referring, when necessary (and apparently not often enough), to a desk-kept copy of Epictetus, a Greek philosopher who preached self-discipline. For those on news-fasts, Romeo Orszag has a habit of love slash and burn, littering the earth with EXes, still warm, and his / their issue.

The uncontrolled Dickinson used servants to help tamp down some of the messiness, to create a buffer, and then fixed in literature what was unruly in her own life. Certainly there is the physical closeness when one lives under the same roof with servants and is cared for them in fairly intimate ways.

Beyond that, there was her passion for Kate Anton and Otis Lord. The story circulated that Romeo (Romea?) Dickinson was found locked in the arms of a man but their reverie was breached when her shocked sister-in-law entered the room and hastily retreated.

If Orszag tries to tidy up with lessons from Epictetus, Dickinson turned to Shakespeare and perhaps that was the problem. The thing about writing is that you get to tell the story your way. Everything that is emotionally messy and physically arousing can be channeled and groomed. Commas arrest, periods stop, and dashes have a halting allure –

Romea Dickinson

Poet-Surgical Patience

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3rd, 2010 by admin – Comments Off on Poet-Surgical Patience

yareah.comWhen my care becomes managed, let it be by a poet.

Give me a diagnosis by someone who cares to the least phoneme.

Prescribe for me some Oppen, Tagore, Kim, Shelley, Hunt, Neruda, Harer, Rilke, Barrett Browning, Celan…

Along with the usual givens (rest, fluids) and other interventions (excising, adding, bandaging).

“Thank you for the surgery –” wrote Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the person she chose for her care. “It was not so painful as I supposed.”

In War Dances Sherman Alexi described post-surgical patients but surely he meant poet-surgical patience.