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Billet-Doux

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For S. S.

She reads by the light of a guttering candle
and likes the feel of each page's gilt edge
as she lifts it slightly at the corner, readying

herself to turn it. If the wind whips
the sycamore branches outside her window,
if her nightgowned shoulders shudder once

from a sudden chill, so much the better,
and the book must tell of children toiling
for bread and pennies in a textile mill,

or tender brothers doomed to sharpen
their bayonets in opposing armies,
or a family of refugees, dust

in their mouths, gazing with longing at the far
shore of a river. And I long only
to be the author of that book she reads

whose page glows from the same dim
flame that illuminates her face,
the author whose thought she contemplates

as she touches a fingertip to a word
to mark her place and turns her head
toward the kettle that has begun to whistle.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the July 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

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Billet-Doux

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  • Chris Forhan grew up in Seattle, Washington. He earned an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Virginia. He is the author of Forgive Us Our Happiness (1999), co-winner of the Bakeless Literary Publication Prize; The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars (2003), winner of the Samuel Morse French Poetry Prize; and Black Leapt In (2009), chosen by poet Phillis Levin for the Barrow Street Press Book Prize.
    Publishers Weekly noted that in Forgive Us Our Happiness Forhan’s “happiness is mediated by wry glances at the mythic . . . and the demotic.” Often elegiac, the poems in Black Leapt In address a son’s early loss of his father, and the strange yet familiar experience of coming of age. Lawrence Raab commented that the poems in Black Leapt In “have in them something of Theodore Roethke’s excitement at being alive in the...

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