Five Things on Letters

by a contributor

from Jeff Burt, author of Tilting, Faces, and Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn:

  1. Postal home delivery began during the Civil War when a postmaster decided that mothers and fathers of Union soldiers should know when their sons had died and not have to wait to pick up the notice at the post office, to secure the intimate loss in the privacy of their own homes.  What can electrons convey compared to the height and breadth and length and weight of human sympathy in the dark ink in the ounces of a letter?

  2. I treasure hand-written lines from my grandmother, shaking penmanship in spare words in straight rows down the page, or my wife’s exultant whispers overflowing rows that lose their way much as a dreaming young farmer forgets the line of furrows and wanders off course across the field.

  3. I treasure the smudges of ballpoint ink left when a thought stalled, or the ink of the ribbon faded on the white-white paper my father used.

  4. I treasure the scented notes that my mother used, sympathies, questions, mirth and myth passing one to another with a touch of lilac or lavender.  Joy jumped and skipped across the page.  Sadness looped.

  5. When I slit open the top of the letter, the earnest desire to see what is inside, the thrill of an amateur biologist opening a first carcass or a botanist opening an unknown pod I express in that cut.  I take out the letter and give it air, let it breathe, give it back its life.