Let me say first I’m sorry for the lateness of this letter.
I’d like blame it on early snow, the kind that rains down
slow and sweet as apple blossoms, the kind the covers the
cement with wet and soft, too tender for booted feet.
The snowman came alive and mugged me, stick fingers
fumbling in my coat sleeves, slinking off with my papers.
Postage stamp buttons and my favorite pen for a nose.
They used the last line of this letter — you know the one —
and curled it for their wordy smiles. And how could I steal
it back, how could I steal away their lettered grins?
I’d like to tell you it was the sideways storm that raged
in, kept the books lit by lightning bugs, brought with it
the damp dew that sealed flaps and broke fevers. Peeled
the wallpapers like fruit or petals or pelts, left us all for
broke, our nails gone to nothing. The windows and doors
went sticky with sweat and the sting of swarms. The clouds
came down to street level and waved. From the panes,
we watched the alligators rise to the occasion, take
their meat from the bank. I’ve never rolled over like that
for anything but their teeth.
Maybe I’ll say it was the grass that grew, tall enough to
whisper sweet nothings against my knees. Those slender
bend stalks of golden green leaning in on me, soft as a
young boy’s first trembled touch. Or the wings of a butterfly
the flapped in your backyard. Orange and black dust settled
on my kitchen table, perfect patterns that made it impossible
to read the language hidden in the wood. Somewhere a man
with a lasso stole me off to his crypt and made me hear his skin
in the heat of the fire. Moths live in parched paper, sprout wings
and fly just inches out of reach every half day. Or so.
It isn’t that I didn’t know what to say to you. Or how to say it.
It isn’t that I forgot how to write with the purpled heart ink
you knew me for. It isn’t that my tongue had better purposes
that licking this self-sealing stamp. It isn’t that my fingers wanted
the way your skin felt like the softest paper. Or that your address
stood at the end of the table and made me spell home over and over.
Or that your memory took shape in the fold of sheets and brandished
everything I’d once written, hieroglyphics now, each one sharp enough to
cut me a thousand times, a thousand tiny swipes that bled like
snowstorms, rainsprays, grass seeds, butterfly dust. It isn’t that.
It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.—Herotodus, Histories (8.98) (trans. A.D. Godley, 1924)