Letters

by Russell Thornton

I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets –
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
The dates. The phrases.
The things you said. Forfeited.
Snowflake patterns.
Leaf diagrams.
Crushed. Melted. Dissolved.
The flooding runoff
at the backed-up
street corner drain
collects it all.
Only the opening
of a strong seal far below
could allow that pool
of darkening rainwater
to run and drop away
between the slats.
If I were to recover
the lost key of the cursive,
I would in one instant
want back again what I saw
in the images
the hand traced out for me.
And would be denied
even the little
the letters kept of you
and be released
into nothing but more time.

Notes on the Poem

Features we've explored in recent Poems of the Week combine for potent effect in Russell Thornton's "Letters", from his 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection "The Hundred Lives." We noted just a few weeks ago that the slim columnar layout of Alan Shapiro's poem "Stone Church" both reinforced sensations produced by the poem's words and buttressed the architectural sense of the structure being observed. What does this same slim format do here in Thornton's poem, in which the narrator confesses to throwing away someone's letters? An initial and strong reaction is that the words have been arranged in a taut, controlled fashion, producing an anxious effect. "The last items I had left. The dates. The phrases. The things you said. Forfeited. Snowflake patterns. Leaf diagrams. Crushed. Melted. Dissolved." Those preceding lines are also reminiscent of another feature we observed in the terse tercets of Karen Solie's "The Girls". The brief sentences and phrases punctuated as sentences feel razor sharp with frustration and regret, don't they? Intriguing, the poem's tight layout and laconic voice are in contrast to such images of release as: "Only the opening of a strong seal far below could allow that pool of darkening rainwater to run and drop away between the slats." Was the relinquishing of the letters what has given this tense narrator some release ... or will he never be released from remorse at disposing of them?

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