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Good Letters

bed at nightIt was a night of tumors, broken relationships, lost jobs, and loneliness. A night of sharp words cutting people off at the knees. I hadn’t even read about that day’s ISIS exploits, burning churches, or anonymous children washing ashore—just the workaday grief in my messages and newsfeed.

I have an eating disorder.

I’m so lonely I can’t sleep.

Will I ever get a paycheck again?

By the grace of God, I wasn’t one of the lamenters, but I was a friend to all, knowing “grace” only lasts until I’m next.

I fluffed my pillow and put down the phone, and my husband turned out the light. He slept, and I lay there, guilty again of filling my head with all that is flashing and grim.

I should never have left her.

My father won’t speak to me.

I have news too scary to share.

Then something pinged off my forehead.

I turned on the light. My husband stirred. I saw nothing, then the object bounced off my elbow and thigh.

I went to the bathroom, took a seat, and looked down at my shorts, where a small, grasshopper-like bug balanced on my drawstring.

Suddenly it jumped, or rather, ricocheted off the wall, and I thought it gone forever until I reached for the toilet paper and found it perched on the penultimate square. I gently maneuvered the roll so as not to disturb the bug while retrieving the material I needed.

I tore off the insect’s landing pad and laid it on the counter, staring down at the quilted design. The bug’s thready legs sank into the indents like I imagine my feet would stick into potholes. Its body was as long as a sunflower seed.

They are turning off life support.

I can’t stop crying.

What’s the point of writing anymore?

Recently, my family visited General Sherman, the largest living thing in the world, at Sequoia National Park. The plaque in front of the tree says a human looking up the trunk of that sequoia is analogous to a mouse peering up at a six-foot-tall human. What would I be to this bug: Half Dome? Everest? Never mind. It’s so small, it has no reason to fear.

How I wish I understood my smallness this way, to crouch in the safety of knowing no better, springing into the unknown at will.

I needed to find out the name of this bug, to get an answer to something before I went to sleep. As I headed to my basement library to grab my Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I caught myself feeling self-consciously Annie Dillard-like in my pursuit.  This was not the kind of thing I did—at least anymore. Life’s minute curiosities had vanished long ago in my attempts to keep children quiet, counters clear, and deadlines met.

Beyond that, I try to help, haplessly, my friends and relatives survive their lacewing days. I try not to worry that I am a sinner in the hands of a colossal God. Beneath our homes, rooted under the foundation, floor, and cross-stitched promises of healing and life, is the reminder that he gives and takes away.

Is there a point to living at all?

I ran upstairs with the toilet paper square, which flipped upside down on my palm when the ceiling fan stirred the air. My heart froze. But when I turned the paper over, the bug still clung there, back legs like dollhouse hairpins, red eyes like flu-shot pinpricks of blood trembling on the dome of its head.

I flipped through the sections of the book. Grasshopper? No, too dainty. Cricket or katydid? Not antennae-y enough. Then I found it: leafhopper. Gingko green, vein-winged, and for a bug, pretty darned cute.

The leafhopper belongs to the family of the longest leapers in the animal kingdom, specifically one of forty-nine species of Gyponana. All have spiny shins, lay their eggs in plant stems, and look like leprechaun nail trimmings.

It was almost midnight. Many of my friends, I knew, still cried in their beds. But I liked the way Gyponana sounded and went to sleep comforted—yes—that somewhere in my room during the chaos of the night the tiny bug trembled and leapt. To him, my bed may have been the size of a national park, but he needed nothing to amaze him, nothing to preserve. He would live in grace until eaten, webbed up, or stepped on. And before long, a new one would flutter through the screen.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Tania Runyan


Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky (Cascade Poiema Series), A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem, an instructional guide based on Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry,” was recently released by T.S. Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Books & Culture, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, and the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.


This Creative Commons image is attributed to Seniju on Flickr.

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