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Emily Dickinson’s Heather and Mine

October 4, 2017



NOTE:  I remember my life in “dog chapters.”  These chapters overlap in the month of October.  After my Beagle-Terrier mix, Little Prince, sadly left us in October of 1962, my Toy Manchester-Chihuahua(the smallest of all of my dogs)–Little Prince II–was born on October 9, 1962.  The largest of my four guide dogs and all of my pet dogs–Heather, my second Leader Dog, was born on October 22, 1996; and  my current Leader Dog, Willow) was born on October 19, 2013.  Thinking about my Yellow Labrador Retriever on this warm day in October, I am sharing with you a poem about my Heather.


On May 4, 2012, I wrote this poem for the course “Elements of Poetry,” offered by the Hadley School for the Blind (now the Hadley Institute for the Blind); however, I recently significantly revised a number of lines and added a few lines before I submitted the poem to my writers’ critique group for their  comments on September 26.  Thanks to my writer friend Leonard Tuchyner’s keen observation, I made another important revision to the third stanza.


Within the framework of my poem are quotations  from the Massachusetts poet Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830-May 15, 1886).  The quoted lines are from a famous two-quatrain poem of Ms. Dickinson; since most of her poems were untitled, the borrowed lines are from the poem known by its first line “I never saw the moor.”  The eight-line poem has always been one of my favorites and can easily be found online.



Emily Dickinson’s Heather and Mine


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



“But, know I how the heather looks ….”  –Emily Dickinson


From Amherst came two quatrains

from Emily, of course.

Thanks to Mabel Loomis Todd,

the world relishes the poetic source

from where I grasp my favorite line—

the one that did foretell

the name of my creamy-colored Yellow Lab

who guided me especially  well.


Through this Leader Dog,

I learned how Heather looks

through all seasons of life,

in tactile photographic books.


Large, strong, muscular Heather–

walked over drawbridges with me,

lay by my desk as I taught,

cuddled near my theatre seat

as I listened to musicals and Maya Angelou,

guided me up the stairs

where Lincoln had lived,

saved me

from being hit by a falling icicle,

learned to walk down a special ramp

when she could no longer descend our back stairs,

easily befriended her successor Zoe

for the final thirteen months

of Heather’s season on Earth—

softened with age,

but strengthened my heart and hands.


“… and what a wave must be.”  –Emily Dickinson


From Amherst, with her red tresses and white dress,

Emily wrote these words of the sea;

however, they apply to a Midwestern me

as I tearfully wave and wave,

like whitecaps, again and again,

good-bye, good-bye

to Heather, so missed,

my second guide, my valorous friend

who now remarkably rests and runs

with Keller, Chelsea, Chico, and Prince,

and all who came before.


“…as if the chart were given.”  –Emily Dickinson


POST-SCRIPT:  For additional information about the “Elements of Poetry” or other courses of the Hadley Institute for the Blind (courses through correspondence in various mediums for people who are legally blind), please visit the website:


Best wishes for a peaceful and happy October!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


October 4, 2017, Wednesday



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  1. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–Enjoyed reading this very nice poem. I guess I’m lucky to have known Heather, although not as well as Keller and Zoe, and Willow who we are just getting to know. Also lucky to have seen many kinds of heather in Scotland, as a guest of a fellow special needs instructor. One reason poetry has always been intimidating to me is the tremendous amount of work that goes into crafting a poem, I guess a poet is never really “finished” with a poem. Also liked the “waves” connection of human waves and whitecaps–Sue

    • Hi, Sue–Thanks so much for adding your comment about the various types of heather which you saw in Scotland.  Yes, I think you are right that revising a poem is an on-going process.  Sometimes, tweaking the tiniest of parts of a poem can make such a difference.

      Enjoy this autumn day–Alice and Willow

  2. mfanyo permalink

    Oh, Alice, this beautiful poem makes me miss your Heather! She was present at so many important family events during the years the two of you were a team. How nice to remember Heather with such special words that only you can create!
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–Thanks so much for your especially nice comment about my Heather.  Each of my guide dogs has been extraordinarily special in her own way.

      Enjoy the autumnal weekend!  Alice and Willow

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