+ Letters


Themed Collection: Letters

Poems that involve writing letters, getting letters, finding letters, and just letters in general.

[Letter to Gary Bottone], by Jack Spicer

[Letter to Gary Bottone], by Jack Spicer
Dear Gary,

Somehow your letter was no surprise (and I think you knew that it was no surprise or you would have tried to break the news more gently); somehow I think we understand what the other is going to say long before we say it—a proof of love and, I think, a protection against misunderstanding. So I’ve been expecting this letter for five weeks now—and I still don’t know how to answer it.

Bohemia is a dreadful, wonderful place. It is full of hideous people and beautiful poetry. It is a hell full of windows into heaven. It would be wrong of me to drag a person I love into such a place against his will. Unless you walk into it freely, and with open despairing eyes, you can’t even see the windows. And yet I can’t leave Bohemia myself to come to you—Bohemia is inside of me, in a sense is me, was the price I paid, the oath I signed to write poetry.

I think that someday you’ll enter Bohemia—not for me (I’m not worth the price, no human being is), but for poetry—to see the windows and maybe blast a few yourself through the rocks of hell. I’ll be there waiting for you, my arms open to receive you.

But let’s have these letters go on, whether it be days, years, or never before I see you. We can still love each other although we cannot see each other. We will be no farther apart when I’m in Berkeley than we were when I was in Minneapolis. And we can continue to love each other, by letter, from alien worlds.

Love, Jack

A Letter In October, by Ted Kooser

A Letter In October, by Ted Kooser
Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side—a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic—
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.

Consider the Hands that Write This Letter, by Aracelis Girmay

Consider the Hands that Write This Letter, by Aracelis Girmay

after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.
The left palm pressed flat against the paper,
as it has done before, over my heart,
in peace or reverence
to the sea or some beautiful thing
I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants’ wedding,
or the strangest birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,
within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I’ve held a spade,
match to the wick, the horse’s reins,
loping, the very fists
I’ve seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.
For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,
like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up
the food that comes from that farming.
Or, yes, it is like the way I’ve danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder
& my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how
I pray, I pray for this
to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body’s position
to its paper:
left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:
one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.

Dear David, by Matthew Burgess

Dear David, by Matthew Burgess

This morning I looked
for your book online
and almost bought it
from the evil giant
but balked. Instead
I wrote a poem in bed
about a faux-leopard
jacket while drinking
coffee from a Bette
Midler mug. Marcel
says when he catches
himself self-censoring
he knows to add it
anyway. Anyway
I scrambled eggs
before rearranging
my book shelves,
extracting the ones
I can live without.
Those I put in a box
for prisoners (who
want dictionaries
and classic fiction,
the website says)
and later the buyer
in Red Hook took
a towering stack
for a seventeen buck
credit. I skimmed
the spines and there
you were! Like new!
On the cover in blue
pants, a violet plaid
shirt, surrounded by
bright particulars!

Dear J., by Kazim Ali

Dear J., by Kazim Ali

It should be a letter
To the man inside
I could not become

Dressed in yellow
And green, the colors of spring
So I could leave death

In its chamber veined
With deep ore
I’ve no more to tell you

Last winter I climbed
The mountains of Musoorie
To hear frozen peals of bell and wire

A silver thread of sound
Sky to navel
Draws me

like the black strip
in a flower’s throat
meant to guide you in

I lie now in the winter
open-petaled beneath Sirius
I cereus bloom

Dear Lonely Animal,, by Oni Buchanan

Dear Lonely Animal,, by Oni Buchanan

I’m writing to you from the loneliest, most
secluded island in the world. I mean,
the farthest away place from anything else.

There are so many fruits here growing on trees
or on vines that wrap and wrap. Fruits
like I’ve never seen except the bananas.

All night the abandoned dogs howled.
I wonder if one dog gives the first howl, and if
they take turns who’s first like carrying

the flag in school. Carrying the flag
way out in front and the others
following along behind in two long lines,

pairs holding hands. Also the roosters here crow
from 4am onward. They’re still crowing right now
and it’s almost noon here on the island.

Noon stares back no matter where you are.
Today I’m going to hike to the extinct volcano
and balance on the rim of the crater. Yesterday

a gust almost blew me inside. I heard
that the black widows live inside the volcano
far down below in the high grasses that you can’t

see from the rim. Well, I was going to tell you
that this morning the bells rang and I
followed them and at the source of the bells,

there I found so many animals
all gathered together in a room
with carved wooden statues

and wooden benches and low wooden slats
for kneeling. And the animals were there
singing together, all their voices singing,

with big strong voices rising from even
the filthiest animals. I mean, I’ve seen animals
come together and sing before, except in

high fancy vaults where bits of colored glass
are pieced together into stories. Some days
I want to sing with them.

I wish more animals sang together all the time.
But then I can’t sing sometimes
because I think of the news that happens

when the animals stop singing.
And then I think of all the medications
and their side effects that are advertised

between the pieces of news. And then I think
of all the money the drug companies spent
to videotape their photogenic, well-groomed animals,

and all the money they spent to buy
a prime-time spot, and I think, what money
buys the news, and what news

creates the drugs, and what
drugs control the animals, and I get so
choked I can’t sing anymore, Lonely Animal.

I can’t sing with the other animals. Because it’s
hard to know what an animal will do when it
stops singing. It’s complicated, you know, it’s just

complicated—

Dear Miss Emily, by James Galvin

Dear Miss Emily, by James Galvin

I knew the end would be gone before I got there.
After all, all rainbows lie for a living.
And as you have insisted, repeatedly,
The difference between death and the Eternal
Present
is about as far as one
Eyelash from the next, not wished upon.
Rainbows are not forms or stories, are they?
They are not doors ajar so much as far—
Flung situations without true beginnings
Or any ends—why bother—unless, as you
Suggest—repeatedly—there’s nothing wrong
With this life, and we should all stop whining.
So I shift my focus now on how to end
A letter. In XOXOXO,
For example, Miss, which are the hugs
And which the kisses? Does anybody know?
I could argue either way: the O’s
Are circles of embrace, the X is someone
Else’s star burning inside your mouth;
Unless the O is a mouth that cannot speak,
Because, you know, it’s busy.
X is the crucifixion all embraces
Are, here at the nowhere of the rainbow’s end,
Where even light has failed its situation,
Slant the only life it ever had,
Where even the most gallant sunset can’t
Hold back for more than a nonce the rain-laden
Eastern sky of night. It’s clear. It’s clear.
X’s are both hugs and kisses, O’s
Where stars that died gave out, gave up, gave in—
Where no one meant the promises they made.
Oh, and one more thing. I send my love
However long and far it takes—through light,
Through time, thorough all the faithlessness of men,

James Augustin Galvin,

X,

His mark.

Dear Ra, by Johannes Göransson

Dear Ra, by Johannes Göransson

Dear Ra,

There are no more cigarettes in this letter. It’s all about spray-paint and traffic jams from here on out. Honk if you’re epileptic, honk if it’s 2:40 p.m., if you love shells. Honk in the name of freedom and fear of the human body. When I say “human body” I mean the kind that tears like lettuce. And when I say “fear” I mean the kind you feel seconds before crashing into a wall. That’s the kind of poem this is. The kind raised on excess television violence.

All that’s left are ads for brotherhood and blowjobs. An ad for 2:42 p.m. A wad of hair. This isn’t Marx. I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me sour candy. Run down the deer. Rain. Wear a red jacket and pumps. Pave the road back from my bed. I don’t own a bed, it must’ve been the trap I’ve crept in and out of since I learned how to sleep alone. The Count of Monte Cristo’s funeral. God’s earlobe. An army of lamb can stop a film but not the violence of handbags. Not 2:43 p.m. Two forty-four pee em. Speak from a babble and a switch. Piss in a telephone booth. Grow a tree. Kidnap a car thief. Talk to him as though you want to be slammed in his trunk like a bag full of rocks.

Talk to me in the woods. To my chest. With your fingers.

Even if you kick in the gates, nyc is still nyc. My concussion is still a hotel. The guests are staying lukewarm and I’m picking up the tab. Ask me if I have ever wanted to tear out cables, burn up cradles. Interview my architects about hands. Ask an illegal immigrant how to escape from a political cliche. Does one use hammers? What about the moist area? The brutal caress? The spindle? Where does one learn to speak such a broken language? Are you jealous of films about Vietnam?

This poem is dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard. This poem is dedicated to the man who put a gun in my gullet. This poem is a pay-phone.

Someone has slashed its chords and ripped out its face. This drink is mixed with a plastic fork. This is an invitation to my Halloween party. Come as a key. Come as a metatextuai tear in the metatextual fabric.

Listen to my concert through walls that were built to keep the vermin out of my armpits. Shovel. That’s all I ask in return for my sonata on gravel. I mean gravel in a dialectic sense. As in, tomorrow dirt will be glamorous. Asphalt will be categorized as a sound. You will be categorized as an outdated method of psychotherapy. Like confession. Or the couch. Or the chair. I will be classified as a sore loser. Last year’s winner must have thrown something hard at my head. Something that shattered like a waltz in a bomb raid. It’s almost three o’clock. That makes it exactly several thousand miles since I left your town. I left your mice. I left a confusing note for the exterminators.

I’ve been confused when I should have been
reborn as a crusade or a hospital of innocents.
I’ve been bored when I should’ve been screwed.
I’ve been a hungry year.

Dear Tiara, by Sean Thomas Dougherty

Dear Tiara, by Sean Thomas Dougherty

I dreamed I was a mannequin in the pawnshop window
of your conjectures.

I dreamed I was a chant in the mouth of a monk, saffron-robed
syllables in the religion of You.

I dreamed I was a lament to hear the deep sorrow places
of your lungs.

I dreamed I was your bad instincts.

I dreamed I was a hummingbird sipping from the tulip of your ear.

I dreamed I was your ex-boyfriend stored in the basement
with your old baggage.

I dreamed I was a jukebox where every song sang your name.

I dreamed I was in an elevator, rising in the air shaft
of your misgivings.

I dreamed I was a library fine, I’ve checked you out
too long so many times.

I dreamed you were a lake and I was a little fish leaping
through the thin reeds of your throaty humming.

I must’ve dreamed I was a nail, because I woke beside you still
hammered.

I dreamed I was a tooth to fill the absences of your old age.

I dreamed I was a Christmas cactus, blooming in the desert
of my stupidity.

I dreamed I was a saint’s hair-shirt, sewn with the thread
of your saliva.

I dreamed I was an All Night Movie Theater, showing the
flickering black reel of my nights before I met you.

I must’ve dreamed I was gravity, I’ve fallen for you so damn hard.

Found Letter, by Joshua Weiner

Found Letter, by Joshua Weiner

What makes for a happier life, Josh, comes to this:
Gifts freely given, that you never earned;
Open affection with your wife and kids;
Clear pipes in winter, in summer screens that fit;
Few days in court, with little consequence;
A quiet mind, a strong body, short hours
In the office; close friends who speak the truth;
Good food, cooked simply; a memory that’s rich
Enough to build the future with; a bed
In which to love, read, dream, and re-imagine love;
A warm, dry field for laying down in sleep,
And sleep to trim the long night coming;
Knowledge of who you are, the wish to be
None other; freedom to forget the time;
To know the soul exceeds where it’s confined
Yet does not seek the terms of its release,
Like a child’s kite catching at the wind
That flies because the hand holds tight the line.

Instructions to Be Left Behind, by Marvin Bell

Instructions to Be Left Behind, by Marvin Bell

I’ve included this letter in the group
to be put into the cigar box—the one
with the rubber band around it you will find
sometime later. I thought you might
like to have an example of the way in which
some writing works. I may not say anything
very important or phrase things just-so,
but I think you will pay attention anyway
because it matters to you—I’m sure it does,
no one was ever more loved than I was.

What I’m saying is, your deep attention
made things matter—made art,
made science and business
raised to the power of goodness, and sport
likewise raised a level beyond.
I am not attaching to this a photograph
though no doubt you have in your mind’s eye
a clear image of me in several expressions
and at several ages all at once—which is
the great work of imagery beyond the merely
illustrative. Should I stop here for a moment?

These markings, transliterations though they are
from prints of fingers, and they from heart
and throat and corridors the mind guards,
are making up again in you the one me
that otherwise would not survive that manyness
daisies proclaim and the rain sings much of.
Because I love you, I can almost imagine
the eye for detail with which you remember
my face in places indoors and out and far-flung,
and you have only to look upward to see
in the plainest cloud the clearest lines
and in the flattest field your green instructions.

Shall I rest a moment in green instructions?
Writing is all and everything, when you care.
The kind of writing that grabs your lapels
and shakes you—that’s for when you don’t care
or even pay attention. This isn’t that kind.
While you are paying your close kind of attention,
I might be writing the sort of thing you think
will last—as it is happening, now, for you.
While I was here to want this, I wanted it,
and now that I am your wanting me to be myself
again, I think myself right up into being
all that you (and I too) wanted to be: You.

Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting, by Kevin C. Powers

Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting, by Kevin C. Powers

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.

Letter From Swan’s Island, by Elizabeth Spires

Letter From Swan’s Island, by Elizabeth Spires

The island’s dark tonight.
The radio crackles with static, news
of a blackout, the voice
coming through first loud, then soft,
as if a storm were moving
to cut all lifelines off. My one-room
cabin has a bed, a table, a chair.
Living this way, I understand better
that scene by an anonymous
illuminator: a row of monks
eating at a rough table, diagonals
of light slicing across the room
to fall, as if by accident,
on their simple meal. The black
and white tiles on the floor
a symbol of the formal repetitions
of the simplest life, or maybe
an oblique allusion to a paradox
of theology: the complementary nature
of good and evil. Is evil possible here
where everyone lives so individually
and nature appears to be neutral
toward everything but itself?
Some mornings I wake too suddenly,
the light on the wall
brilliant and unfamiliar, and wonder
for a moment, where am I?
I answer myself, my disembodied voice
high and far off
like what I imagine saints and martyrs
heard in moments of ecstasy: Swan’s Island.
Lightheaded, I rise, make coffee,
settling into the simple ceremony
of another morning. Outside the sea birds
pick the clam flats clean, fly off,
returning late in the afternoon
looking for more to scavenge.
Good days, I swim in the quarry,
sun myself on the rocks, and plan
a diary. One entry: I feel
this place to be a rough approximation
of heaven, the heaven of the lost

But then I wonder if a diary
would be superfluous and put it off.

Days pass here, weeks slip away,
and even when it isn’t,
it seems to be Sunday,
irreal, subdued, the queer, slowed-down
feeling of late afternoon
spreading through the hours
of an entire day. Impersonal, yet benign,
the sun rains indiscriminately down
on everything, instead of singling out
particular objects, so that
even the rocks out by the tide line,
normally gray-brown, become heightened,
false, and I have to turn away.

Sometimes the lobstermen wave to me.
I must seem frivolous to them,
an outsider, with my pants rolled up
to the knees, standing knee-deep in water,
a shell or rock in my hands.
We have a code. I wave a white
handkerchief above my head,
they blow their foghorns back.
Once means the mail’s in,
twice, a storm by afternoon,
three times, the weather
will clear by evening.
But really, after a month
in a place like this, there’s no use
to wonder why the sea does this or that,
what time it is, or whether
the approaching storm will be a bad one.
If I think of anything here,
it’s the peculiar way
the sea gets into everything,
softening the crackers I seal
in an airtight jar, rotting the armchair
where I sit in the evening,
looking into the evening’s afterlight.
It smells peculiar, damp,
as if it had been tossed overboard
from a dory, thought better of,
and hastily retrieved.

I have a fantasy: to walk on water.
Not eastward, the Atlantic far out
scares me, but long, island-hopping
giant steps up and down
the coast the way as a child
I’d make my “two-legged” compass
walk the map. Walking to school
a thousand winter mornings,
I imagined each thought, each step,
an exercise in good and evil;
or, after confession, I’d cup
my hands around my breath,
saved for an hour, knowing I’d sin
again, the scars on my soul
whitening like the scars on my hands
where I burnt them on the stove.
Swan’s Island. A world
existing side by side with yours,
where love struggles to perfect
itself, and finally perfect,
finds it has no object.
The waking dream’s intact-
the world continues not to change,
and staying the same, changes us.

Letter from Town: The Almond Tree, by D. H. Lawrence

Letter from Town: The Almond Tree, by D. H. Lawrence

You promised to send me some violets. Did you forget?
White ones and blue ones from under the orchard hedge?
Sweet dark purple, and white ones mixed for a pledge
Of our early love that hardly has opened yet.

Here there’s an almond tree—you have never seen
Such a one in the north—it flowers on the street, and I stand
Every day by the fence to look up for the flowers that expand
At rest in the blue, and wonder at what they mean.

Under the almond tree, the happy lands
Provence, Japan, and Italy repose,
And passing feet are chatter and clapping of those
Who play around us, country girls clapping their hands.

You, my love, the foremost, in a flowered gown,
All your unbearable tenderness, you with the laughter
Startled upon your eyes now so wide with hereafter,
You with loose hands of abandonment hanging down.

Letter Home, by Pamela Alexander

Letter Home, by Pamela Alexander

I can’t write you because everything’s
wrong. Before dawn, crows swim
from the cedars: black coffee calls them down,
its bitter taste in my throat as they circle,
raucous, huge. Questions with no
place to land, they cruise yellow air
above crickets snapping
like struck matches. My house on fire, crows

are the smoke. You’ve never left me.
When you crossed the river you did not
call my name. I stood in tall grass
a long time, listening to birds
hidden in reeds, their intricate songs.

The grass will burn, the wrens,
the river and the rain that falls on it.
I can go nowhere else: everything
I cannot bear is here.

I must listen deeper. Sharpen my knife.
Something has changed the angles
of trees, their color. Do not wait to hear
from me. I cannot write to you
because this is what I will say.

Letter to Dr. B—, by Diane Ackerman

Letter to Dr. B—, by Diane Ackerman

I have found you among the texts
(but not the textures) of your life,
in the library of your cunning,
where the abstracts of forty papers
open, one by one, like small windows
partly sealed by terminology’s lacquer.
They reveal you both aloof and enthralled,
a restless mind of intersecting planes.

How can I resist the paper “Artist and Analyst”?
Yet I do, thinking it best to stay
within the frame we’ve chosen,
using the palette we invent,
creating a mosaic in motion.
Whenever I set a shard in place,
the mosaic evolves, blurs a moment,
then a new scene refines, throwing past into relief,
drawing present into mind.

So I will sacrifice my yen to know
the what and whim of you. Though my curiosity
is swelling like a Magellanic Cloud
filled with a luminous starfield of questions,
I’ll sacrifice them on the altar of our ineffable
cause. A padded altar. A cause quilted with passion,
and insight whose razors cut clean as thrill.
A sacrifice intoxicating as any pill.

Letter to Gertrude Chataway, by Lewis Carroll

Letter to Gertrude Chataway, by Lewis Carroll

Christ Church, Oxford, October 28, 1876

My Dearest Gertrude,

—You will be sorry, and surprised, and puzzled, to hear what a queer illness I have had ever since you went. I sent for the doctor, and said, “Give me some medicine. for I’m tired.” He said, “Nonsense and stuff! You don’t want medicine: go to bed!” I said, “No; it isn’t the sort of tiredness that wants bed. I’m tired in the face.”

He looked a little grave, and said, “Oh, it’s your nose that’s tired: a person often talks too much when he thinks he knows a great deal.” I said, “No, it isn’t the nose. Perhaps it’s the hair.”

Then he looked rather grave, and said, “Now I understand: you’ve been playing too many hairs on the pianoforte.” “No, indeed I haven’t!” I said, “and it isn’t exactly the hair: it’s more about the nose and chin.”

Then he looked a good deal graver, and said, “Have you been walking much on your chin lately?” I said, “No.” “Well!” he said, “it puzzles me very much. Do you think it’s in the lips?” “Of course!” I said. “That’s exactly what it is!”

Then he looked very grave indeed, and said, “I think you must have been giving too many kisses.” “Well,” I said, “I did give one kiss to a baby child, a little friend of mine.” “Think again,” he said; “are you sure it was only one?” I thought again, and said, “Perhaps it was eleven times.” Then the doctor said, “You must not give her any more till your lips are quite rested again.” “But what am I to do?” I said, “because you see, I owe her a hundred and eighty-two more.”

Then he looked so grave that tears ran down his cheeks, and he said, “You may send them to her in a box.” Then I remembered a little box that I once bought at Dover, and thought I would some day give it to some little girl or other. So I have packed them all in it very carefully. Tell me if they come safe or if any are lost on the way.

Lewis Carroll

Letter to Susan Huntington Dickinson, by Emily Dickinson

Letter to Susan Huntington Dickinson, by Emily Dickinson

Tuesday morning – [1854]

Sue – you can go or stay – There is but one alternative – We differ often lately, and this must be the last.

You need not fear to leave me lest I should be alone, for I often part with things I fancy I have loved, – sometimes to the grave, and sometimes to an oblivion rather bitterer than death – thus my heart bleeds so frequently that I shant mind the hemorrhage, and I can only add an agony to several previous ones, and at the end of day remark – a bubble burst!

Such incidents would grieve me when I was but a child, and perhaps I could have wept when little feet hard by mine, stood still in the coffin, but eyes grow dry sometimes, and hearts get crisp and cinder, and had as lief burn.

Sue – I have lived by this.

It is the lingering emblem of the Heaven I once dreamed, and though if this is taken, I shall remain alone, and though in that last day, the Jesus Christ you love, remark he does not know me – there is a darker spirit will not disown its child.

Few have been given me, and if I love them so, that for idolatry, they are removed from me – I simply murmur gone, and the billow dies away into the boundless blue, and no one knows but me, that one went down today. We have walked very pleasantly – Perhaps this is the point at which our paths diverge – then pass on singing Sue, and up the distant hill I journey on.

I have a Bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing –
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears –
And as the Rose appears,
Robin is gone.

Yet do I not repine
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown –
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.

Fast in a safer hand
Held in a truer Land
Are mine –
And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They’re thine.

In a serener Bright,
In a more golden light
I see
Each little doubt and fear,
each little discord here
Removed.

Then will I not repine,
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown
Shall in a distant tree
Bright melody for me
Return.
E –

Letter To The Local Police, by June Jordan

Letter To The Local Police, by June Jordan

Dear Sirs:

I have been enjoying the law and order of our
community throughout the past three months since
my wife and I, our two cats, and miscellaneous
photographs of the six grandchildren belonging to
our previous neighbors (with whom we were very
close) arrived in Saratoga Springs which is clearly
prospering under your custody

Indeed, until yesterday afternoon and despite my
vigilant casting about, I have been unable to discover
a single instance of reasons for public-spirited concern,
much less complaint

You may easily appreciate, then, how it is that
I write to your office, at this date, with utmost
regret for the lamentable circumstances that force
my hand

Speaking directly to the issue of the moment:

I have encountered a regular profusion of certain
unidentified roses, growing to no discernible purpose,
and according to no perceptible control, approximately
one quarter mile west of the Northway, on the southern
side

To be specific, there are practically thousands of
the aforementioned abiding in perpetual near riot
of wild behavior, indiscriminate coloring, and only
the Good Lord Himself can say what diverse soliciting
of promiscuous cross-fertilization

As I say, these roses, no matter what the apparent
background, training, tropistic tendencies, age,
or color, do not demonstrate the least inclination
toward categorization, specified allegiance, resolute
preference, consideration of the needs of others, or
any other minimal traits of decency

May I point out that I did not assiduously seek out
this colony, as it were, and that these certain
unidentified roses remain open to viewing even by
children, with or without suitable supervision

(My wife asks me to append a note as regards the
seasonal but nevertheless seriously licentious
phenomenon of honeysuckle under the moon that one may
apprehend at the corner of Nelson and Main

However, I have recommended that she undertake direct
correspondence with you, as regards this: yet
another civic disturbance in our midst)

I am confident that you will devise and pursue
appropriate legal response to the roses in question
If I may aid your efforts in this respect, please
do not hesitate to call me into consultation

Respectfully yours,

Letter Written In Black Water and Pearl, by Jake Adam York

Letter Written In Black Water and Pearl, by Jake Adam York

To Yusef Komunyakaa

When I rise from the bank
the water’s slow as shadow
in my steps, thick as blood.
The whole river’s secretive,
still, dark as roux
cooled in the skillet, as rank,
as sweet, ancient as catfish,
ancienter. The moon’s
sifted light clouds rumor
to lilies or daffodils,
an egret on the farther shore,
a hunger, a stare, a patience
I could recite. We have
waited all night, nights,
like a bridge for something
to rise, like water
for something to fall.

*

I know what Bogalusa means,
that tea of deadheads
and late-fallen leaves
no one left can read,
snuff-black pools that bathe
grandmothers’ gums.
So many words one has
to know not to say.
So many names. The young,
unconvicted hand. The bricklayer.
The deputy. Names
of flowers and warblers and stars.
Last breaths of the disappeared.
I keep my hands folded,
my map blank
as next week’s papers,
my ears clams
with mouths full of sand.

*

So many songs I can’t sing
with my one poor tongue.
I need a jukebox for a throat
so the midnight’s moan
translates what a wolf
once said to a girl in the trees,
so their branches confess
what the fog told them not
to see. I need the lisp
of a horn valved to spit
which is the sound of a shadow
forgetting what hanged it
in the dark. How do I explain
the way it slips the steam
like a shirt, how it slides
beneath the glass and does not
rise again, how the halflight
fingers the rails of the bridge,
how many things
no one’s done?

*

Birds the color of history
talk in our sleep. Our salts
can’t forget what water
told them, what stars
once telegraphed to the river
the trees have written
in themselves, what they say
to the wind, to the sawmill’s
blades, to flame,
to bromine and mercury,
what they burn in the air.
Dreams walk us back
to the shore, pull the shirttail
from the milkweed, the cattail
from the reed, fold
the kerchiefs into herons,
questions for the shoals.

*

Night slips again
into its last, locked groove.
Mockingbirds stutter
the rasp of broken reeds.
I lean from the eaves
of moss and cypress,
the vestibules of the tung.
Cormorant, coelacanth, snake,
the world below is molten.
Dark iridescence,
the muscle gives back the bone.
The spine’s fleer, the orbits’
gape, the ghost of a face
waking beneath my own.
Here, I bent so close
breath didn’t know
which mouth to fill.

Letter Written On A Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound, by Anne Sexton

Letter Written On A Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound, by Anne Sexton

I am surprised to see
that the ocean is still going on.
Now I am going back
and I have ripped my hand
from your hand as I said I would
and I have made it this far
as I said I would
and I am on the top deck now
holding my wallet, my cigarettes
and my car keys
at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday
in August of 1960.

Dearest,
although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.
The sea is very old.
The sea is the face of Mary,
without miracles or rage
or unusual hope,
grown rough and wrinkled
with incurable age.

Still,
I have eyes.
These are my eyes:
the orange letters that spell
ORIENT on the life preserver
that hangs by my knees;
the cement lifeboat that wears
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf
saying KEEP OFF.
Oh, all right, I say,
I’ll save myself.

Over my right shoulder
I see four nuns
who sit like a bridge club,
their faces poked out
from under their habits,
as good as good babies who
have sunk into their carriages.
Without discrimination
the wind pulls the skirts
of their arms.
Almost undressed,
I see what remains:
that holy wrist,
that ankle,
that chain.

Oh God,
although I am very sad,
could you please
let these four nuns
loosen from their leather boots
and their wooden chairs
to rise out
over this greasy deck,
out over this iron rail,
nodding their pink heads to one side,
flying four abreast
in the old-fashioned side stroke;
each mouth open and round,
breathing together
as fish do,
singing without sound.

Dearest,
see how my dark girls sally forth,
over the passing lighthouse of Plum Gut,
its shell as rusty
as a camp dish,
as fragile as a pagoda
on a stone;
out over the little lighthouse
that warns me of drowning winds
that rub over its blind bottom
and its blue cover;
winds that will take the toes
and the ears of the rider
or the lover.

There go my dark girls,
their dresses puff
in the leeward air.
Oh, they are lighter than flying dogs
or the breath of dolphins;
each mouth opens gratefully,
wider than a milk cup.
My dark girls sing for this.
They are going up.
See them rise
on black wings, drinking
the sky, without smiles
or hands
or shoes.
They call back to us
from the gauzy edge of paradise,
good news, good news.

Letter, by Victor Hugo

Letter, by Victor Hugo

II.vi.

You can see it already: chalks and ochers;
Country crossed with a thousand furrow-lines;
Ground-level rooftops hidden by the shrubbery;
Sporadic haystacks standing on the grass;
Smoky old rooftops tarnishing the landscape;
A river (not Cayster or Ganges, though:
A feeble Norman salt-infested watercourse);
On the right, to the north, bizarre terrain
All angular–you’d think a shovel did it.
So that’s the foreground. An old chapel adds
Its antique spire, and gathers alongside it
A few gnarled elms with grumpy silhouettes;
Seemingly tired of all the frisky breezes,
They carp at every gust that stirs them up.
At one side of my house a big wheelbarrow
Is rusting; and before me lies the vast
Horizon, all its notches filled with ocean blue;
Cocks and hens spread their gildings, and converse
Beneath my window; and the rooftop attics,
Now and then, toss me songs in dialect.
In my lane dwells a patriarchal rope-maker;
The old man makes his wheel run loud, and goes
Retrograde, hemp wreathed tightly round the midriff.
I like these waters where the wild gale scuds;
All day the country tempts me to go strolling;
The little village urchins, book in hand,
Envy me, at the schoolmaster’s (my lodging),
As a big schoolboy sneaking a day off.
The air is pure, the sky smiles; there’s a constant
Soft noise of children spelling things aloud.
The waters flow; a linnet flies; and I say: “Thank you!
Thank you, Almighty God!”–So, then, I live:
Peacefully, hour by hour, with little fuss, I shed
My days, and think of you, my lady fair!
I hear the children chattering; and I see, at times,
Sailing across the high seas in its pride,
Over the gables of the tranquil village,
Some winged ship which is traveling far away,
Flying across the ocean, hounded by all the winds.
Lately it slept in port beside the quay.
Nothing has kept it from the jealous sea-surge:
No tears of relatives, nor fears of wives,
Nor reefs dimly reflected in the waters,
Nor importunity of sinister birds.

Love Letter (Clouds), by Sarah Manguso

Love Letter (Clouds), by Sarah Manguso

for B. H.

I didn’t fall in love. I fell through it:

Came out the other side moments later, hands full of matter, waking up from the dream of a bullet tearing through the middle of my body.

I no longer understand anything for longer than a long moment, or the time it takes to receive the shot.

This kind of gravity is like falling through a cloud, forgetting it all, and then being told about it later. On the day you fell through a cloud . . .

It must be true. If it were not, then when did these strands of silver netting attach to my hair?

The problem was finding that you were real and not just a dream of clouds.

If you weren’t real, I would address this letter to one of two entities: myself, or everyone else. The effect would be equivalent.

The act of falling happens in time. That is, it takes long enough for the falling to shear away from the moments before and the moments after, long enough for one to have thought I am falling. I have been falling. I continue to fall.

Falling through a ring, in this case, would not mean falling through the center of the annulus—a planet floats there. Falling through the ring means falling through the spaces between the objects that together make the ring.

On the way through, clasp your fists around the universe:

Nothing but ice-gravel.

But open your hands when you reach the other side. Quickly, before it melts.

What did I leave you?

Love Letter to a Stranger, by Jenny Browne

Love Letter to a Stranger, by Jenny Browne

Tell us of a bypassed heart beating in 12C,
how the woman holds a stranger’s hand
to the battery sewn in beneath her collarbone,
and says feel this. Tell us of the man’s ear
listening across the aisle, hugging itself,
a fist long since blistered by blaze.
Outside, morning sun buckling up.
Inside, twitching bonesacks of bat, birdsong
erupting as light cracks the far jungle canopy.
Ten thousand feet below ours, a grey cat
tongues the morning’s butter left out to soft.
Last night we broke open the sweet folds
around two paper fortunes. One said variety.
One said caution. The woman in 12C would hold that
her heart needs its hidden spark, but the man shows
how some live the rest of their lives with half a face
remembering its before expression. Who was it
that said our souls know one another
by smell, like horses?

My Father’s Love Letters, by Yusef Komunyakaa

My Father’s Love Letters, by Yusef Komunyakaa

On Fridays he’d open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams’ “Polka Dots & Moonbeams”
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter’s apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

My Letters! all dead paper… (Sonnet 28), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My Letters! all dead paper… (Sonnet 28), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand. . . a simple thing,
Yes I wept for it—this . . . the paper’s light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God’s future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . 0 Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

Self-Portrait as Letter Addressed to Self, by J. Michael Martinez

Self-Portrait as Letter Addressed to Self, by J. Michael Martinez

X.X.,

Someday, across glacier, a green horse will ride toward you; despite steam rising from heavy breath, you’ll touch its snout.

When you paired a person’s gait to signature, what lilt signed your step? What tautology, what tense was this body’s hypothesis?

Do you remember your mother’s Strawberry Fruit-Salad Recipe? 2 round Angel Cakes (2 pounds or 4 halves), 16 oz of vanilla pudding, 4 bananas, 2 containers of 8 oz strawberries, 1 big container of whipped cream. Layer and eat.

Your hands shaking, you wrote, “Christ is sentiment.”

A cup cracked through with sky. A saucer planed into the shapes of numbers. Every written thing stripped bare, the more supple formulation of given law.

I told you distance to a thing is the purchase of its reality. Why are people like that for us? The more we love the more physical space our love inhabits & the world’s lightness’ & darkness’ assume the order of human tongue.

Last night we tore & tossed memories into ponds. Geese swam across, pecked the waters. I splashed at them &, after, my hands shook. You stood beside me in a red dress. I wanted to drown you this pretty.

xoxo,
X.X.

Thanksgiving Letter from Harry, by Carl Dennis

Thanksgiving Letter from Harry, by Carl Dennis

I guess I have to begin by admitting
I’m thankful today I don’t reside in a country
My country has chosen to liberate,
That Bridgeport’s my home, not Baghdad.
Thankful my chances are good, when I leave
For the Super Duper, that I’ll be returning.
And I’m thankful my TV set is still broken.
No point in wasting energy feeling shame
For the havoc inflicted on others in my name
When I need all the strength I can muster
To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district.
There, at least, I don’t feel powerless.
There my choices can make some difference.

This month I’d like to believe I’ve widened
My students’ choice of vocation, though the odds
My history lessons on working the land
Will inspire any of them to farm
Are almost as small as the odds
One will become a monk or nun
Trained in the Buddhist practice
We studied last month in the unit on India.
The point is to get them suspecting the world
They know first hand isn’t the only world.

As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class,
It’s not because I feel obliged to include it,
As you, as a writer, may feel obliged.
A student may happen to introduce it,
As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay
About her older brother, Ramon,
Listed as “missing in action” three years ago,
And about her dad, who won’t agree with her mom
And the social worker on how small the odds are
That Ramon’s alive, a prisoner in the mountains.

I didn’t allow the discussion that followed
More time than I allowed for the other essays.
And I wouldn’t take sides: not with the group
That thought the father, having grieved enough,
Ought to move on to the life still left him;
Not with the group that was glad he hadn’t made do
With the next-to-nothing the world’s provided,
That instead he’s invested his trust in a story
That saves the world from shameful failure.

Let me know of any recent attempts on your part
To save our fellow-citizens from themselves.
In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon
For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene
Where he appears under guard in a mountain village
Should be confined to the realm of longing. There
His captors may leave him when they move on.
There his wounds may be healed,
His health restored. A total recovery
Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness
A father dreams he can burn away.

The Afterlife: Letter To Sam Hamill, by Hayden Carruth

The Afterlife: Letter To Sam Hamill, by Hayden Carruth

You may think it strange, Sam, that I’m writing
a letter in these circumstances. I thought
it strange too—the first time. But there’s
a misconception I was laboring under, and you
are too, viz. that the imagination in your
vicinity is free and powerful. After all,
you say, you’ve been creating yourself all
along imaginatively. You imagine yourself
playing golf or hiking in the Olympics or
writing a poem and then it becomes true.
But you still have to do it, you have to exert
yourself, will, courage, whatever you’ve got, you’re
mired in the unimaginative. Here I imagine a letter
and it’s written. Takes about two-fifths of a
second, your time. Hell, this is heaven, man.
I can deluge Congress with letters telling
every one of those mendacious sons of bitches
exactly what he or she is, in maybe about
half an hour. In spite of your Buddhist
proclivities, when you imagine bliss
you still must struggle to get there. By the way
the Buddha has his place across town on
Elysian Drive. We call him Bud. He’s lost weight
and got new dentures, and he looks a hell of a
lot better than he used to. He always carries
a jumping jack with him everywhere just
for contemplation, but he doesn’t make it
jump. He only looks at it. Meanwhile Sidney
and Dizzy, Uncle Ben and Papa Yancey, are
over by Sylvester’s Grot making the sweetest,
cheerfulest blues you ever heard. The air,
so called, is full of it. Poems are fluttering
everywhere like seed from a cottonwood tree.
Sam, the remarkable truth is I can do any
fucking thing I want. Speaking of which
there’s this dazzling young Naomi who
wiped out on I-80 just west of Truckee
last winter, and I think this is the moment
for me to go and pay her my respects.
Don’t go way. I’ll be right back.

the fare-well letters [excerpt], by Evie Shockley

the fare-well letters [excerpt], by Evie Shockley

dear ink jet,

black fast. greasy lightning.
won’t smear. won’t rub off.
defense: a visual screen: ask
an octopus (bioaquadooloop).
footprints faster than a speed-
ing bully, tracking dirt all
over the page. make every
word count. one. two. iamb.
octoroon. half-breed. mutt.
mulatto. why are there so few
hybrids on the road? because
they can’t reproduce. trochee
choking okay mocha. ebony,
by contrast, says so much.

The Letter From Home, by Nancyrose Houston

The Letter From Home, by Nancyrose Houston

The dogs barked, the dogs scratched, the dogs got wet, the
dogs shook, the dogs circled, the dogs slept, the dogs ate,
the dogs barked; the rain fell down, the leaves fell down, the
eggs fell down and cracked on the floor; the dust settled,
the wood floors were scratched, the cabinets sat without
doors, the trim without paint, the stuff piled up; I loaded the
dishwasher, I unloaded the dishwasher, I raked the leaves,
I did the laundry, I took out the garbage, I took out the
recycling, I took out the yard waste. There was a bed, it was
soft, there was a blanket, it was warm, there were dreams,
they were good. The corn grew, the eggplant grew, the
tomatoes grew, the lettuce grew, the strawberries grew, the
blackberries grew; the tea kettle screamed, the computer
keys clicked, the radio roared, the TV spoke. “Will they ever
come home?” “Can’t I take a break?” “How do others keep
their house clean?” “Will I remember this day in fifty years?”
The sweet tea slipped down my throat, the brownies melted
in my mouth. My mother cooked, the apple tree bloomed, the
lilac bloomed, the mimosa bloomed, I bloomed.

The Letter, by Amy Lowell

The Letter, by Amy Lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

The Letter, by Dana Gioia

The Letter, by Dana Gioia

and in the end, all that is really left
is a feeling—strong and unavoidable—
that somehow we deserved something better.
that somewhere along the line things
got fouled up. and that letter from whoever’s
in charge, which certainly would have set
everything straight between us and the world,
never reached us. got lost somewhere.
possibly mislaid in some provincial station.
or sent by mistake to an old address
whose new tenant put it on her dresser
with the curlers and the hairspray forgetting
to give it to the landlord to forward.
and we still wait like children who have sent
two weeks’ allowance far away
to answer an enticing advertisement
from a crumbling, yellow magazine,
watching through years as long as a childhood summer,
checking the postbox with impatient faith
even on days when mail is never brought.

The Letter, by Mary Ruefle

The Letter, by Mary Ruefle

Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots. A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts. I wonder will I
ever see a grape again? When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October– when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger– how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink. It seemed our future was sealed. Everyone
said so. It is quiet here. Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely. The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath. I am the stranger who kissed you. On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier. The power of
mindless beauty! Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May. A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye. For a month I milked a barnful of
cows. It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier. Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles. Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed? Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.

(here the letter breaks off)

The River-merchant’s Wife: A Letter, by Ezra Pound

The River-merchant’s Wife: A Letter, by Ezra Pound

After Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

This is a Letter, by Rebecca Dunham

This is a Letter, by Rebecca Dunham

This is a letter to the worm-threaded earth.

This is a letter to November, its gray bowl of sky riven by black-branched trees.
A letter to split-tomato skins, overripe apples, & a flock of fruit flies lifting
from the blueing clementines’ wood crate.
To the broken confetti of late fall leaves.
This is a letter to rosemary.

This is a letter to the floor’s sink & creak, the bedroom door’s torn hinge
moaning its good-night.
This is to the unshaven cheek.
To cedar, mothballs, camphor, & last winter’s unwashed wool.
This is a letter to the rediscovered,

to mulch, pine needles, the moon, frost, flats of pansies, the backyard,
hunger, night, the unseen.
This is a letter to soil, thrumming as it waits to be turned.
This is a letter to compost, eggshell’s bone-ash chips, fruit rinds curved like
fingernails, & stale chunks of bread.
A letter to the intimate dark—mouth-warm & damp as a bed.

This is a letter to the planet’s scavenging lips.

 

 

 

 

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