JAKE RUSSELL

 

 

 

To Galway Kinnell,

 

I wrote you this summer and oi ’ad a ’eck of a toime
penciling letters on notebook paper. Because I was
lonely. Unsuccessful poems dreaming of being
myth. Trying to say something to the cosmos.
The way you did in Sheffield Ghazal 4,
the first poem in which I, a new poet, felt a conflict
within: homesickness and wanderlust, or maybe
two aspects of death: extinction, which we fear, and
flowing away into the universe. Looking
at an earth we once fashioned to be enormous.
Being struck by its fragility. I wanted to say
Thank you. So I sent the letter.

Which was returned a month later, unopened,
a single handwritten word on the envelope:
UNDELIVERABLE. Mr. Kinnell, you passed away
before I could thank you. Before I could thank you for
your words, which touched me like a spirit answering
the prayer of a man who wants whatever what is is;
like a lonely man making songs out of whatever

it is that keeps us from heaven; like a song suggesting
that every time an author dies, a word should pass
from being. But I hadn’t known, reading your poem,
what I know now. That I should’ve remained silent.
And I hadn’t known, when I first wrote you a letter
while you were still alive, what I know now.

That my words should’ve carried a sense of urgency.
Mr. Kinnell, I’m afraid I wasted an opportunity
to be a writer. And so this letter has been lost
in a post office, undeliverable, a prayer
sent back to the ear unheard. If it’s all the same, though,
I’d like to suggest a word we remove for you.
I choose transience, the quality of passing before a vision
in a brief time. I believe that word fits the best.