Letter to a friend

For Amy, an ocean away.

Across the Atlantic
We sit
Each in our own room
Typing frenetically
Sporadically
Updating one another
On news
Life events
Woes as experienced from the bathroom floor
Wonders which include enchanted encounters
We condense stories
Better told leisurely
Over coffee or tea
In each other’s actual
Physical company
Wherein a raised eyebrow
Or pause
Tells its own story.

Instead.
In lieu.
We abbreviate
We abridge
We g-chat.

It is, perhaps,
For just this circumstance
That letter writing was meant.
So that we could tell stories fully,
Extravagantly fill pages with prose,
So as not to miss a detail,
In order to describe most vividly
Our lives at that particular moment.
Believing this action
Might somehow lessen
The inexorable ache of missing one so dear.

To hold your letter in hand,
Revel in the familiar swoop of your script.
(Do we know anyone’s handwriting anymore?)
To reread one’s favorite passages over toast,
To open and smooth out folded pages,
And hear your voice in my mind.
To imagine you in the scene you’ve described
So perfectly, with such intricacy
That Virginia Woolf now reads somehow vague.
To accept this painted scene meant for me alone
This is the gift of friendship.

I fear a future of
The Lost Emails of [Insert Author’s Name]
Or even
The Collected G-Chats.

Forget not the motion of your own hand
Across a page.
Forget not the letters you keep in boxes
Like secrets,
Like a child’s collected treasures:
Half a robin’s egg, a piece of beach glass, a bent penny
Hidden, sacred.

Say you’ll return to paper and pen.
Let flow the words you would say
In-person
Were it not for an ocean.
Transcribe the conversation
Of head and heart, magic and memory
And sign it
Not “With love,” or “Missing you,”
But “Always.”

A Word About Virginia

Image: © The Estate of Gisèle Freund, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

I read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse for the first time in 1995, in a class taught by the wonderful Dr. Susie Thomas, during a semester spent in London as part of a Drew University program.

Virginia, her book, my professors, fellow students, and London forever changed my life.

Happy birthday, Ms. Woolf. Thank you for your words.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.”
To The Lighthouse

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”
A Room Of One’s Own

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”
A Room Of One’s Own

“Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.”
Mrs. Dalloway