WHERE POEMS GO
In Tampa, Florida, Irene Ledbetter
sits at her desk to write to me.
She holds the magazine with my poem
about my brother and his dead dog.
She has two dogs herself and admits
she has the habit of rescuing baby rabbits,
baby birds…even unhatched eggs.
She writes to me as a friend in long
merry sentences, great streams of herself
and uses words like kisses and hugs.
She says her father is a big man
who grew up without a puppy. She tells
me everything. She says Lizzy was
her long-time pet chameleon she saved
from a tree. She swears Lizzy knew her name
and came when called to eat. She fed her
meal worms and water from a leaf.
Lizzy died, possibly from too much to eat.
In your poem, it says, ‘In that moment
I knew what animals know.’ I still talk to
Lizzy today, and when I see lizards outside
of my house that look like her, I know
it’s her telling me that she’s o.k.
Irene has written every paragraph in a
different color ink, and there are stickers
in the corners of cartoon bears holding
hearts and stepping over rainbows.
She sighs and drinks some Diet Coke as she
seals the envelope. Now it is dark. Tomorrow,
she goes back to high school, and I
consider my odd lifespan, and how I taught
students like Irene, girls in their prison blue
Catholic school uniforms. Not one now
remembers my name, not one recalls
my lecture on the rabbits in Of Mice and Men
—so poetic, I actually teared myself up,
when I overheard a girl in the front row
turn and ask her friend, “Are my lips chapped?”
The evenings in Florida are cold,
grapefruit trees hold tight to their heavy fruit
and the winds shake the heavy green
and buggy land. Weather there has teeth—
I once saw a man on a golf course killed
by lightning from a blue sky.
There is a hint of the sea in every suburb,
and instead of dirt, you find sand and shells
outside your door. Irene’s hopes mingle
with the scent of ocean and orange groves.
Of her fears for puppies and the future,
I cry. Oh I cry. I’ve got to continue to live.
When I read the letter again today, I feel blessed
to be drifting and deathless, bearing up like Irene.
—from Rattle #26, Winter 2006