Letter to Jesse; (for Jesse Alan Dodd, born on March 31, 1980)

Dear Jesse, You don't know me. Some friends come on snowy roads, Christmas evening and unexpected; some arrive daily for breakfast and talk. I am the friend who appears with words, withinm words, when I'm too far off for a warmer embrace.

Your father is my friend. I've watched for many years the man he's grown to.

I know your mother briefly but wholly. (On the first bright day of April, when the frost subsides and the birches are burnished extra bright, and you walk in the woods filling yourself with the new sounds and smells and touches -- on such a gifted day, doesn't someone know Spring wholly?)m

Because I am a poet, your father wants me to write some words for you. But what words can I give you without being ashamed or weak or halfhearted? By the time you can read this letter, you will know so much more than any of my words, and I will have forgotten further still. So what can I write to you?

I can't tell you about how blue the sky was today, how fresh and spirited. Looking up, you will know the smell of blue, the voice of blue, the clean clear weather of paradise. So how can I tell you about blue?

I can't tell you about gladness and life, because the minutes you will spend crouching by the slurping stream, or watching the sunlight collect on the blackberries, or hugging the trim waist of an oak sapling, or hurling the first stone of daring -- your moment has all the gladness poets dream poems about. And life! Living! You are the master and I am the poor student, dull and lazy, late in his lessons. The clench of your fingers around your mother's neck . . . that is living!

So what words can I give you now that will not make me sorry and want them back tomorrow?

Greatness? Your home, not mine, overlooks the great Pacific, broad and blue as an April evening, with dolphins leaping in the spray like stars.

Contentment? Not with your well-worn denim, your care-crafted home, your unlimited mornings, commencing with the blessing of a kiss.

How about height? Not while the redwoods pose in circles outside your window , and goshawks scan even the redwoods from the crown of the wind. Perhaps depth? Your dreams each night burrow, slide, fall deeper into chambers of mystery than any of my metaphors.

Again and again, it comes down to this: my only gifts are the words themselves.m I can remind you how vital it has become that we sharem our life -- that we make a common place even in our most private imagination. In the solitude each individual most cultivate, there is still some unwilled burgeoning that can feed all the living. Words -- the right words -- are sheer provocation to throw open the world. Perhaps we can be partners in this enterprise, Jesse: I have a small talent with nouns and verbs, and you have a native genius for loving.

So let me apply my words to this very day -- which you have not yet had the chance to entertain -- not for the fact but just for the love and the telling.

The world was falling apart this day, though the sky refused to bear witness and the sidewalk and the rosebush seemed no more worn or broken. The world was not ready for your arrival, Jesse, though it was already calling your name and reciting your sky-blue litany. Your mother and father were hard at work building love when you called to their astonishment.

Gabriel, my dog, went running today and he too felt the spring. He was fast again and puppy-spry -- though he is nearly nine years old. (I'll bet you'll be fast when you're 9!) I told Gabriel about you as we went running.

The clouds this evening were sail-white and larger than my imagination, surging across a vellum sky. The moon was a slice less than full tonight, and breathed a cool nimbus of contentment. The moon, your father told me, was full-faced and clear the night you were born and your imagination first crossed the darkness.

For a moment I imagined angling my words off the face of the moon, rebounding star by star until they'd skimmed a westward arc toward California. And I imagined my words lighting on the window of your new home, Patsy and Tom sitting quietly watching you sleep. As if to a challenge, my words declare: "With this boy in the world, there is one more chance for us. With each new loving, there is a chance."

I admit to you now: words never changed a single thing in this universe. But isn't it surprising how new a place can appear after a few words have passed by?

Perhaps I should close my letter now, before all this talk runs away with me. It seems every poet wants his lines to brave out some wonder never imagined, some music never contained in a poem. Perhaps we all desire to perform one perfect act to justify the small ground we stand in life. But just one thought of you, my brand new friend, turns the tables on my anxious considerations. And now I think it must be the lifem -- the woman or the man -- that justifies the fine words, the living vision that adds the perfection to the act. The long road of creations is something we can't help but take part in. Maybe I will write you that miraculous poem one day; or, just maybe, I will provide the lead for someone else's miracle. For all I know, Jesse, you may be dreaming up that unimaginable singing right now.

In lieu of a poem, I'll send you this tangled recitation: as a greeting; as a promissory note; something that, once begun, couldn't be held back. . . . Not for Beauty's sake, I confess, but because I couldn't be arm's-close now to you and your family. And not for the fact (because your sweet breathing is the fact) but just for the love and the telling.

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