The typewriter is now obsolete, and who actually writes with paper and ink anymore? This poem was generated by the dozens of letters written by my great-grandmother to my grandmother, most of them during the depression, when she taught Latin and handwriting. They came to light after my father's death. I remember the sheer curtains above the writing desk. Scattered sheets of paper. Thanks to Magpie Tales for reminding me.
A teacher of grammar and penmanship,
she saved her letters
in chifforobe drawers or stacked
on the floor of her closet.
They lie even now where she left them.
Every last one of them answered.
I’d watch her bend over her desk,
words streaming onto the ivory vellum
like blue tributaries,
and sometimes, when she left awhile
to tend gumbo that boile d on the stove
or fold linens she scooped from the clothesline,
I touched those rose-scented sheets
and tried to imagine I lifted
their seamless meander of words
from the envelope.
When I complained over school compositions,
that I could find none of my own words
for such disagreeable assignments,
she would say, Just pick a word
and then wait.
Like a leaf spinning
round in a backwater,
sooner or later it catches the current.
Her last letters never got mailed.
When I read them,
her perfect blue words drift away
on a tide of forgetfulness,
as if she lived out her days underwater.
A few now and then break
names of roses
she still pruned
and watered. King’s Ransom.
as a rescue team scanning the waste
might describe them,
but more like the named
as if she’d thrown them
one by one,
into the wake
of her vanishing.
from Catching Light, LSU Press