Written Poetry

Simone answers her letters

Jeannine Pitas

Every day they come in crates, these letters from the living.

St. Paul brings them to my room.

Each one bears a question: Is affliction inevitable?

Must love mean non-attachment? My favorite:

Why is life not fair? Then, the personal inquiries:

Why did you do it? Why did you have to give so much

that you shrank so thin? You could have lived, kept on

writing. You could have reached past iron curtains, thrown water

on the fires of 1968, borne witness to dissolving empires,

surging dreams. I’d like to write back, but letters aren’t sent from heaven.

Jeannine Marie Pitas (credit:  Bob Felderman)

I reply in smells. The aroma of graphite pencils

in an inner-city Chicago classroom where a young girl studies

parallel lines. The smell of crunched autumn maple

wafting in through an open window, filling her with joy. A sudden

whiff of honey settling over a neighborhood that normally stinks

from the oil refinery. A smell of May magnolias for the white-walled room

where people wait for death. For the weeping mother whose child

has died, a scent of boysenberry syrup from her own childhood,

then a splash of mint from the garden where she conceived

her beloved babe. For the recovering alcoholic,

a smell of melting chocolate. For the prisoner, the smell

of buttered corn and melon from the picnics he can’t go to. I know

such small comforts aren’t enough, just as eating only my ration

and dying wasn’t enough, as eating more and surviving also would

not have been. There is only one Enough, and I can but point to it.

If God exists, why did my husband come back from the war

without a leg? Why is there nothing we cannot lose?

I wish I could tell them that now, as then, I still

don’t know the answer – that, when they weep,

angels and saints weep too.

Jeannine Marie Pitas is a poet, Spanish-English literary translator, writer, and teacher. Her recent book of poems is titled Things Seen and Unseen. Currently, she lives in Iowa where she teaches literature, writing, and Spanish at the University of Dubuque.

  • Credit re the photo of Ms. Pitas on the home page: Giles Edkins¬†
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