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Apology for the Time between Letters

by Keith Leonard

If I bound all the times I never wrote

but could have, I’d own a new stool

and could reach even deeper

into the cupboard of my regret.

My friends write letters that read

impossibly good—like something

rattled loose from a cloud of leaf smoke.

They come carved and painted

with providence upon providence,

and what I’m saying is this

is all their fault. I can shrug an email.

I can even cast a spell numerically

and conjure my voice right into their homes,

but damn if I can’t just write, Hello,

how are you? and put it in an envelope.

I don’t have much to say these days.

Work is difficult. Being alive

is an unfathomably lucky thing.

I wake and mostly feel as plain as a sheet

of forever stamps, and yet, this morning,

I suddenly found myself baptized

in bewilderment again. On the radio

the scientist said there are whales

in Bermuda who bellow so loudly

their distant loves off the coast of Canada

can hear their songs. The scientist mentioned

this discovery of loneliness so casually.

I turned off the car and sat in the driveway

and listened to an imaginary album titled

Dream of Me Strumming Your Baleen.

I miss you, friends. I hope some of the strings

that marionette you have loosened.

I hope you are behaving very badly

and showing yourself a second way.

I have a couple of friends who keep up with the art of writing letters. Those letters come in sporadically every few months or half-year and are easily the best mail I receive among the many bills and fliers for internet services or phone plans I will never switch to. I carry around their words for a while before answering since my friends are brilliant writers and the bar they set is too high.

This poem came from one of those times when I had a letter creased in my pocket and heard a story about 52 Blue, deemed the loneliest whale in the world, and their long, sad song that has puzzled scientists for decades. In the early 90s, naval audio technicians picked up a whale call well outside of the normal range of 15 to 20 hertz. Fifty-two hertz is distinctly higher and sounds a bit ghostly. When the researchers published their report, letters came flooding in. They came from the heartbroken and the lonely who identified with the unidentified blue whale who seemed to be unanswered by whomever they were calling out to. I, too, love the idea of a lonely heart reaching out over thousands of miles for connection.

Keith Leonard is the author of the poetry collection Ramshackle Ode. His poems have appeared recently in American Poetry Review, The Believer, New England Review, POETRY, and Ploughshares, among others. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’  Conference, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council. Leonard lives in Columbus, Ohio.