My dearest Y. and B.—

I’ve written and rewritten this letter many times. Didn’t want to sound trite, didn’t want to come off like a cliched greeting card either.

How does one find the right words for joy, for knowing that you’re spending a lifetime with the one person in the whole world that fits you? How can I describe how happy I am to be made part of this, to witness two people turning a page, writing a new chapter together? I take a cue from Nicole Krauss, in her book, The History of Love:

There is no word for everything.

Nevertheless, let me try to say it the best I can:

Y.—we’ve called each other Soulmates for as long as I can remember (senior high school, I think?). I haven’t the slightest idea anymore why—perhaps because we stood in a small room and realised exactly how much we have in common?

Or don’t have in common—because look at how our lives have diverged, the paths we took, the people we met, the changes we went through. And yet some things still stay the same. And yet the universe still made sure that our threads continue to tangle.

There was a meeting of minds (and hearts) the day we forged our friendship. I am crossing my fingers that this bond will always keep. Today though, Y., you will be walking towards your true Soulmate, and how lovely to see you off, to watch him receive you in his arms! I think it will be a beautiful sight—a privilege, really.

B.—one of my memories of you was one afternoon talking about Murakami. You spoke of staying up late in a coffee shop, asking them to let you finish the book before they close for the night. I can’t remember what the book was—was it Norwegian Wood? (It was my favourite, you know. It will always have my heart.)

That image stayed with me, all through these years. I remember thinking, I remember feeling relieved and sure—that you will take care of my friend. That she will be safe with you, and grow with you, and be loved. All because you told me you read a book until the end.

I didn’t know that years later, I would be here, writing this letter. Perhaps you knew. Perhaps both of you knew.

Thank you for showing me that love is real.

Yours,
T.

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem
Bob Hicok

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,

it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb

but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.

Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,

in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
and resurrected.
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.

1 This is from Plus Shipping by Bob Hicok, published by BOA Editions, Ltd., 1998.

2 This is a draft of a letter I wrote to Y. on the day of her wedding.

3 Here is Bob Hicok reading his poem, after answering a question about it.

4 I first read this in 2005. Somehow Y. found it, too. I remember when she told me about a poem she loved. Something about hands, she said. I looked at her and asked, “Hicok?” She nodded, and we didn’t need any words after that.

Most of all, may you be safe, may the spaces around you that I can’t touch be filled with my love, and may you go to sleep every night believing there’s always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Born Yesterday
Philip Larkin

For Sally Amis

Tightly-folded bud,
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.

But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
Nothing uncustomary
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

1 This is from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, published by Farrar, Straus and Girroux, 2003.

2 This is a reading of Larkin’s poem, by Tom O’Bedlam.

Dear R.,

I can’t sleep. I can’t work. I don’t know what happened; suddenly you are on my mind again. Not being part of your life, and you not being part of mine, is one of my biggest hurts.

Do you know that warmth you get while in a relationship? The one where you felt so beautiful? I wonder if I’ve lost everything. I wonder if this is it for me. If there won’t be any other.

Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
Leonard Cohen

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but now it’s come to distances and both of us must try,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.

I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
it’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
but let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.

“In this little space fate has allowed for ourselves, I continue to adore you…” I’m reading your old letters to remind myself that you loved me once.

Yours,
T.

()

Thank you, M. I love Auden, too.

Yours,
T.

If I Could Tell You
W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose all the lions get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

()

Because things are beginning again, and I am hoping more people discover poetry this year.

Introduction to Poetry
Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

From Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, published by Random House, 2002. ()

So much to be thankful for. To the world, for listening. For keeping friends safe. For not forgetting who needs justice. For letting people be loved. For mornings where two people can catch up on each other’s lives. To white rabbits, for all the roads we are bound to travel. For adventures. For meeting your fate halfway. To the universe, for being unknowable. For things that begin and end. For the uncertainty, and the courage to face it. For dreams.

And of course, to poetry, for being. For seeing. Listen, says Mary Oliver, are you breathing, just a little, and calling it a life?

Nina’s Blues
Cornelius Eady

Your body, hard vowels
In a soft dress, is still.

What you can’t know
is that after you died
All the black poets
In New York City
Took a deep breath,
And breathed you out;
Dark corners of small clubs,
The silence you left twitching

On the floors of the gigs
You turned your back on,
The balled-up fists of notes
Flung, angry from a keyboard.

You won’t be able to hear us
Try to etch what rose
Off your eyes, from your throat.

Out you bleed, not as sweet, or sweaty,
Through our dark fingertips.
We drum rest
We drum thank you
We drum stay.

()

Two years today. I miss you, Lolo.

A Room in the Past
Ted Kooser

It’s a kitchen. Its curtains fill
with a morning light so bright
you can’t see beyond its windows
into the afternoon. A kitchen
falling through time with its things
in their places, the dishes jingling
up in the cupboard, the bucket
of drinking water rippled as if
a truck had just gone past, but that truck
was thirty years. No one’s at home
in this room. Its counter is wiped,
and the dishrag hangs from its nail,
a dry leaf. In housedresses of mist,
blue aprons of rain, my grandmother
moved through this life like a ghost,
and when she had finished her years,
she put them all back in their places
and wiped out the sink, turning her back
on the rest of us, forever.

()