The Letter

By Mary Ruefle b. 1952 Mary Ruefle
Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots.  A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts.  I wonder will I
ever see a grape again?  When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October—when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger—how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink.  It seemed our future was sealed.  Everyone
said so.  It is quiet here.  Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely.  The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath.  I am the stranger who kissed you.  On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier.  The power of
mindless beauty!  Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May.  A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye.  For a month I milked a barnful of
cows.  It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier.  Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles.  Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed?  Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.
(here the letter breaks off)

Mary Ruefle, “The Letter” from Post Meridian. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Ruefle. Reprinted by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Source: Post Meridian (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000)

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Poet Mary Ruefle b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Love

Poetic Terms Epistle, Free Verse

 Mary  Ruefle


Though poet and essayist Mary Ruefle was born outside Pittsburgh, she spent her youth moving around the United States and Europe with her military family.

She has written numerous books of poetry, including Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (2007) and The Adamant (1989), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. A Little White Shadow (2006), her book of erasures—found texts in which all but a few words have been erased from the . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Love

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Epistle, Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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