Stephanie Lee Jackson

Lytton Bell

How to be Charlotte Brontë

Desire more worldly experience than you possess.

Never settle for knitting stockings, making puddings,
playing on the piano or embroidering bags.

Tear meat with your teeth.
Write less like a man than a fallen seraph
with a message from the eternal throne.
Find a pilot in your seducer.
Go down in love.

Listen to the bustle of the busy world, towns,
regions brimming with life you sense but never see.
Hear them singing to you, ringing your cranial bell.

Let your heart heave with exultant movement,
expand with life; open your inward ear to a tale without end,
a tale you create and perpetually narrate,
tempered in an actual flame.

Abandon visionary woe.
Grasp mortal happiness, even when it sinks
sharp small animal mouths into your skin.
Even if you must blacken yourself out of Eden’s family portrait.

Sit quietly with apparitions, near the window
in the parlor beside the charred horse chestnut tree.
Let ghosts probe you with hands colder than wind.
Want them.

Don’t ever go to bed while sunrise enfolds moonset.

Cloak naked feet beneath your long dress,
the purple one that bares your tattered hands.

And when the long night cracks open at last
like a raw egg across a plate of sky,
let the dawn come in you so hard that
you know it is the first time
daylight ever really mattered.


“How to Be Charlotte Brontë” won third place in the Focus on Writers competition sponsored by the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library in November 2002.