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Good Letters

flowerssmallI knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
   —Theodore Roethke, “I Knew a Woman

I know a woman who feels injustice in her lungs. A therapist, all day she catches others’ damage and offers it back to them as healing. Now I see her grow tense, ball her fists, seek something to strike while an abusive man asks an entire nation to hate with him.

Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.
   —Pablo Neruda, “[Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs]

Body of my woman, receive what relief my tired hands can offer. Here, on your shoulders, your neck. You are not alone. Not just because I am here. It’s in the papers: we’re all on edge, these days. The veil is off, the gloves. “We, the People” can be an ugly kind of we.

And for you, my love, blessings
for the times we lay so naked in a bed
without the sense of turbulence or tides.
I could just believe the softness of our skin,
those sheets like clouds,
how when the sunlight turned to roses,
neither of us dared to move or breathe.
   —Jay Parini, “Blessings

And for you, my love, I am also angry. So many accept this red view of life. Life not together, but at each other’s throats. Refuse to give him this power. To let him stand for any man. Remember the rhythm of words spoken over coffee and pastries. Remember waking to the morning sun while the green lake made us breakfast.

I am a citizen of this skin—that
alone—and yours is not to be
passed nor won. What is done—
when we let our bodies sharpen
the graphite of each other’s bodies
—is not my test, not my solo
show.
—Kyle Dargan, “The Erotic is a Measure Between

We are citizens of a union of exhibitionists and sex fiends. We are citizens of this marital union, an intimate polity of values, hopes, arguments, agreements, and touches that make the occasion special.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

—William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

No, you have never won a pageant. You never posed for glossy pictures. I don’t care. I deny the logic of ten-point scales. I abstain from ranking you. I can see none like I can see you.

I want to tell someone who needs to hear
how our bodies, these flawed, fair bodies

might come together on Sunday afternoons,
even while another’s flesh and muscle fail.
How strong and fragile human bones and skin
and breath make us, leave us.
—David Wright, “Sunday Afternoons in the Universe”

That man lives in a fantasy constructed of other people’s money and threatened lawsuits. I do not know what he considers a difficult thing. I do not know if he has truly mourned. I do not know if he understands the grace of sharing even a memory of pain, much less a memory of great joy.

My darling, you are lovely,
so very lovely—
as you look through your veil,
your eyes are those of a dove.
Your hair tosses about
as gracefully as goats
coming down from Gilead.

—Song of Solomon (CEV)

Why do you love me? My darling, because you are lovely. Because love makes the beloved lovely. Because love sees the lovely through my screen of twisted dreams. Because you saw something to love in me.

Out of your whole life give but a moment!
[. . .]
Thought and feeling and soul and sense—
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me—
Me—sure that despite of time future, time past,—
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger?

   —Robert Browning, “Marriage”

I still believe in the power of love to draw time together, to seal its significance. I think we all must, or its perversions would not offend us so (those of us they offend). We must denounce what deserves it; we must fight to prevent our leaders from harming us or others (especially others). But we must not kill the things we love meantime. Tomorrow, we fight again. Tonight, give me but one moment!

Night’s fractures make her bed
a jigsaw puzzle
in a thousand pieces. Nearly all
describe the folds of her duvet.
In those remaining
find an ankle and an earlobe.
Then fit the scene together
with your eyes closed.
   —George David Clark, “Variations on Her Bed in Shadows.”

My hand is not clenched to grab but open to stroke and smooth. My fingers held above your skin like the gentle brush of prairie grasses. Let me help you feel safe, as you have helped me.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
   —John Donne, “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

Love lives not in the touch but in the space between. There our eyes can meet, our hearts reach toward each other for an instant of expectation. Before I draw you toward me. And, willingly, you come.


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

Written by: Brad Fruhauff

Brad Fruhauff is a film buff, comics nerd, literature scholar, editor, and writer living in Evanston, Illinois. He is Senior Editor at Relief: A Christian Literary Review and a Writing and Communications Specialist at Trinity International University where he also serves as Contributing Editor for Sapientia. He has published poems, essays, and reviews in Books & Culture, catapult, Christianity and Literature, Englewood Review of Books, Every Day Poems, Not Yet Christmas: An Advent Reader, Rock & Sling, and in the newly released How to Write a Poem.

The above image is by Richard P J Lambert and is used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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