“Letter to Dick from Time” by Heather Altfeld

Heather Altfeld


Dear Richard. How you wanted to be called dearest.
I couldn’t. There weren’t enough hours in the day then
to know the cathedral of your whimsy, nor the catacombs
of your desire. I will take you to the moors, you said
the first time, spooning against the small of my back, curving me
hard into your sadness. So many moors. Petrolia,
phone booth in the rain, car slipshod in the mud,
dialing the rotary for rescue. What you remembered
was hiking in the sand to the lighthouse, leaning me
against its old rail, speaking of Arabia, Lawrence
in the dunes. Everything I have done since
was in your image. The men I loved waver
beneath the shadows of you, seduced by Durrell,
the orange blossoms, white stone of Alexandria. The Arab motion
of spitting. Your lips, heart-shaped and full like a girl’s,
drawing out my breasts. How could you
do this to me? The phone crackles, gin in your fist, bitters
swung into the long planks of your porch. The butterflies
beat their wings in Japan and there are no surprises here. It’s all
chaos theory, darling, you slur into the cord, a hundred vocal
strums singing the Pleiades, my heart warming like pewter
to your words. I will drink to you drinking to me
tonight as the apple orchards glow pink
beneath the clouds and the wheat stalks bend
in our names. Oh, my love. I am just now approaching
who you wanted me to be then. You are right,
dear Dick, this is the worst time of day, when I pull the thread
of a match along the stove grate, bursting the small flicker of flame.
You’d slide past me then to reach the napkins, a dinner fork,
the memory of your hand on my hip as you moved alongside. Tonight I set
the table for you, the full moon of your dinner plate glowing empty
in the evening light. Call me, too, when the night tries to swallow you
past the lump in its throat. Ask me what matters, and I will tell you,
the phone trembling hard against the little knock of our hearts.

from Rattle #43, Spring 2014
Tribute to Love Poems

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Heather Altfeld: “This poem is one of my many homages to Richard Hugo, whose work I did not learn about until someone in my writer’s group brought ‘Letter to Kathy from Wisdom’ as a prompt. ‘Read it again, Bob,’ I said, and he did. It wasn’t enough. I’ve gnarled up two copies of 31 Letters and 13 Dreams in the last few years. I wrote this in a meek attempt to capture, as Hugo does, the kind of longing and sadness that time sets and screws into our bones.” (website)

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