“It’s a Sad Story” by Valentina Gnup

Valentina Gnup


You know the one where the couple lives together 
for twenty years until he leaves her 
for his dead brother’s widow— 
they divorce, he marries the widow, 
then nine months later, he dies too.
Like Hamlet, minus the poison in anyone’s ear. 

It’s hard to talk about without sounding bitter— 
even our daughters joke,
That’s when my father married my aunt,
and I became my own cousin.
It’s the story I take out on the third date 
if a man asks to know more. 
I can’t just say my husband died
or forever after I’d be lying. 

The beginning was sweet, 
the way beginnings can be—
we got together right after I finished high school. 
All summer I listened to him sing and play guitar 
at this Mexican restaurant where the waitress was blind
or just kind enough to serve me Kahlúa and creams, 
I’d sip like a hummingbird—barely 
eighteen years old, drunk on infatuation, 
Simon and Garfunkel covers, and coffee liqueur.

When I moved away to college, 
he sent me letters on thin blue stationery—
he pasted one-cent stamps all over the envelopes, 
drew pictures, and quoted from poems.
I’ve carried that box of letters with me 
every place I’ve ever lived.

And our marriage, like any other—
groceries and children, spaghetti and laundry, 
except we had music, 
he’d play piano, and we’d sing,
I am an old woman named after my mother, 
my old man is another child that’s grown old.

Now I’m the old woman in the song
writing this letter to you—
studying my life like I’m at a market choosing plums, 
weighing my ripeness against my bruises,
offering whatever sugar might be left.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020


Valentina Gnup: “It’s a true story—the changes I made are minor, and I still have that box of letters. I sometimes feel sad that my high school students will probably never experience the pure joy of seeing a love letter in their college dorm mailbox.” (web)

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