Kathleen Lynch

I write letter poems to convey something to someone I couldn’t possibly reach by normal means. Usually, the dead. In the case of this poem, my paternal grandmother. All four grandparents died before my birth. I had grandparent-envy as a kid, jealous of friends who had dinner at grandma’s, went camping with grandpa, or, most wonderfully, spent a whole summer with grandparents. I wistfully imagined these scenarios into being.

I like the epistolary form as a way of speaking to the living as well. Sometimes I disguise them as a fictional characters. The letter poem is also a way to speak to and for characters from history, literature, comics, movies. It’s a fine form from a fine and waning art.




Letter to an Unmet Grandmother

They said there was nothing of yours left
but I found a black & white under the lining
of a rat-gnawed jewelry box. Until now you existed
only in stories, the hardest one the slow-leaked
secret about your suicide. First, I thought you look
too strong for someone who would do that, but
I know deep things are never that simple, and guess
it’s more about luck, or something nameless.

Now I’m a grandmother myself—Maga to our flourishing
boys. I’ve seen seven decades of family history unreel
with its tangles and splices. But as a child I believed
that if only I’d known you, if you’d waited for me
to come along, I’d have been able to charm or cheer you
out of it. I’d pretend we’d come to visit, and you’d rush us
with your wide embrace, and somehow I’d be the one
who would end up on your lap, and you’d untwine my
waist-long braids, brush and brush until my hair
rose up electric to meet your hand.

That dream’s behind me now, but the afterlife of its wish
burrowed in as if it had come true. I will say this: I love
knowing that once you carried my mother in your body,
and she was born with half of me in her, and that means
in a way I lived in you once, like a picture waiting in an
undeveloped roll. And the dog in the photo — your dog
I suppose. How gently you lean to the mutt, offer a treat
from your apron. I can almost see you ruffle her fur
in the next frame; almost hear you coo, Good girl, good girl.                                                         



Kathleen Lynch is the author of Hinge (Black Zinnias National Poetry Prize), and chapbooks How to Build an Owl (Select Poet Series prize, Small Poetry Press), No Spring Chicken (White Eagle Coffee Store Press Prize), Alterations of Rising (Small Poetry Press Select Poet Series), Kathleen Lynch-Greatest Hits (Pudding House Publications-invitational series). Her work appears in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Chariton Review, The Laurel Review, Poetry Northwest, Passager and Quarterly West as well as anthologies and textbooks.