Tiny Letters

Cleveland Wall

I wrote them on adding-
machine paper with ballpoint
pen. I was always at it.
Even before the reply
to the last had come
I was crafting the next—
so much to tell, all
goings on potential fodder
for tales to cast the teller
in a certain light—
clever girl, sexy girl—
O girl of unusual, luscious
mind, who wouldn’t fall
in love with you? As he
was a psych major, my main
correspondent (though not
only, not only, the wickeder
tales reserved for girlfriends)
I would make my psyche
delicious, tell those wildest
dreams, write him into
those dreams dreamt waking,
his rôle primly veiled
in the Freudian style—
carefully, carefully! I tore
pages roughly fit for a small
envelope; ragged edges
signaled a savage élan
(I hoped), the edges smudged
with acid finger oils. Never
a margin, never a blank
space at the bottom, just tiny
letters crammed end to end.
I would dart alarmingly
from topic to topic,
collected dead umbrellas,
abandoned shoes, broken glass,
all the wreckage. I was
always writing, café or bus
stop, scraps tucked into
a Russian grammar or some
old novel. O epistolary
Clarissa! I’d close like her,
Cl—, or like a Russian dandy:
Vale! I was learning about
grand gestures—
                Let this expiate!
I leap out! Out! Out! Collapsed
But my letters were tiny
scraps in tiny script:
a messy clockwork
tic-toc-ticked along, veered
around miniature illustrations,
those tortured microgestures
adding up to what? A final
declaration—and no reply.
And no reply is an answer
slowly. Slowly the stays
unhooked and I forgot him
as God forgets
the Ertrunkenen Mädchen:
       erst ihr Gesicht, dann
       die Hände, und zuletzt
       erst ihr Haar…
The following spring, I met
an older Latvian man, who
wooed me by explaining the
Special Theory of Relativity
—dead simple once you
know it—and that was that.

Yet all the while the looked-for
letter was arriving. Over the sea
it came one day—post-
marked the year before
and stamped undeliverable
for no good reason except
the stuff of the world is knit
out of chaos in the first place.
I still have a roll or two of that
paper, archaic now, insensible
to thermal pulse; it wants
the urgent press of a pen
or at least an adding machine
to act upon it. I keep it in
the secretary in deference
to the old scribbler who
is still me and hates to let
a good thing go to waste.


Cleveland Wall is a poet and teaching artist in Bethlehem, PA. Publications include Philadelphia Stories, Full of Crow, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and a book of poems, Let X=X (Kelsay Books, 2019). She performs with poetry/guitar combo The Starry Eyes and poetry improv group No River Twice. Between whiles she does mail art and makes little chapbooks, two of which have appeared in Poets House showcases.

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