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.
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