The Lost Art of Letter Writing
The ratio of daylight to handwriting
Was the same as lacemaking to eyesight.
The paper was so thin it skinned air.
The hand was fire and the page tinder.
Everything burned away except the one
Place they singled out between fingers
Held over a letter pad they set aside
For the long evenings of their leave-takings,
Always asking after what they kept losing,
Always performing—even when a shadow
Fell across the page and they knew the answer
Was not forthcoming—the same action:
First the leaning down, the pen becoming
A staff to walk fields with as they vanished
Underfoot into memory. Then the letting up,
The lighter stroke, which brought back
Cranesbill and thistle, a bicycle wheel
Rusting: an iron circle hurting the grass
Again and the hedges veiled in hawthorn
Again just in time for the May Novenas
Recited in sweet air on a road leading
To another road, then another one, widening
To a motorway with four lanes, ending in
A new town on the edge of a city
They will never see. And if we say
An art is lost when it no longer knows
How to teach a sorrow to speak, come, see
The way we lost it: stacking letters in the attic,
Going downstairs so as not to listen to
The fields stirring at night as they became
Memory and in the morning as they became
Ink; what we did so as not to hear them
Whispering the only question they knew
By heart, the only one they learned from all
Those epistles of air and unreachable distance,
How to ask: is it still there?
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