I will come out and say it. I’ve been thinking about you constantly. Please don’t tell anyone about this. This is just between me and you, OK? I’ve been meaning to say this for a very long time, for an eternity, actually. I want you. I mean, I want you to want me. Please don’t laugh at my insolence and desperation. I can see you giggling already. Even across time zones, I can hear you howling. Is my nudity so ridiculous? I cannot keep this terse and cute, sweetie. I must go on babbling because “Orders are always short and brief, and every master is monosyllabic to his slaves, whereas supplications and lamentations are lengthy," so wrote Demetrius.
As haughty slaves, poets are no strangers to supplications and lamentations, since they must bow, defer, accede and give in constantly, they must 1) Refer for judgment or consideration 2) Put before 3) Yield to the control of another 4) Hand over formally 5) Refer to another person for decision or judgment 6) Yield to another's wish or opinion 7) Accept or undergo, often unwillingly 8) Make an application as for a job or funding 9) Make over as a return 10) Accept as inevitable. It sucks to submit, I know, and I've been on both ends of these undignified transactions. More than a decade ago, I received a letter from one miffed submitter [click on image to enlarge]:


Aw man, it's not that bad. Yes, it is. In 1992, I received a letter and drawings from Arthur Warner, flaneur and foot-fetish gentleman:

To the Editors:
I submit additional drawings, as offensive as I find them, and as you no doubt find them I do apologize, and persist only because I believe that the unattractiveness of one's personal obsessions may mask, for oneself, other value, the perception of which may occasionally outweight, in the viewer's mind, what after all are someone else's peculiarities.
I apologize also for this way of writing, which I can't help.
Unlikely as publication is, I should, as a matter of courtesy and professionalism, offer something of a bio:
Arthur Warner is a self-taught artist and would be
flaneur who resides in Philadelphia.
[...]
In fact I am a real, and amiable, human person--in case that had not, I think it had not, quite come through.
With the perverse and involuntary supplication he cannot shake off his days,
Arthur Bondsmith Warner


If you're sucking, then it has to be the right feet, and the right view from below, of course. A letter implies distance and absence. A Michaux poem begins, "I write to you from a distant country." Every letter is from far, far away. Touched by a dear person, a letter with its ink blood is a piece of skin, licked then delivered through space and time. Unlike emails, letters are often drawn out monologues, laboriously composed in anticipation of another I-did-this-I-did-that-and-by-the-way-how-are-you-doing monologue in return. Most dialogs are more or less alternating monologues. Hearing nothing, one waits one's turn to speak. Hounded by some urgent need to communicate, those with no aptitude or inclination to write are forced into composing:

Hi Baby,

To some one special in my life. (Smile) When I first met you I was just going to play with your head. but after being with you one night you turn my life around. You was a gentleman, you wasn't like other men who try to get over when you ask to kiss me you blow my mine. If you was a difference person you would have just kiss me. (of course I would have slap you) Then when you call me like you say, I felt good. like you really care. then when I say you again baby you made me fell really good. inside went we were talking an I say that you were just a friend you got upset at me. then I say to myself you must really care about me. I hope you are not playing with my head because I don't play that Shit!! I'm not a kid to be play with at all. I'm beginning to fell for you. So baby don't fuck with my head. As I growed these feeling for you I could for get you. Baby if you have a girlfriend I understand, But we would have to talk about it. My time is very valuable I could really be doing something else. I felt hurt that day when I saw you and you said you had to leave. I wanted to spend some time with you. Then you said you would call me and you didn't call. I'm starting to think that you are losing interest in me or that you don't want to see me anymore. If that true please tell me. I will go about my business. and if you don't baby I would like to see you. By for now
Stay sweet & keep in touch.
think very much of you.
hope we are friends now and always


Correspondences by literary types are usually written with the public and posterity in mind. In the most obvious cases, you have open letters such as this one by Sharon Olds, directed at Laura Bush:

Dear Mrs. Bush,
I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.
In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

[...]
But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.
What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.
So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.
Sincerely,
SHARON OLDS

But even with the most intimate letters, such as those James Joyce wrote to his wife, Nora, one suspects that the writer is still performing for a public, since a writer is never not a writer, is always writing:

My sweet little whorish Nora I did as you told me, you dirty little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I read your letter. I am delighted to see that you do like being fucked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I fucked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest fucking I ever gave you, darling. My prick was stuck in you for hours, fucking in and out under your upturned rump. I felt your fat sweaty buttocks under my belly and saw your flushed face and mad eyes. At every fuck I gave you your shameless tongue came bursting out through your lips and if a gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual, fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her. I think I would know Nora's fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.

Demetrius wrote: "You might say that everyone draws, in his letters, an image of his personality. A writer's character may be seen in all his works, but nowhere so clearly as in his letters." With the case of Robert Greene, it would be hard to produce a starker self-portrait than this:

Sweet wife, as ever there was any good will or friendship between thee and mee see this bearer, my Host, satisfied of his debt. I owe him tenne pound, and but for him I had perished in the streets. Forget and forgive my wrongs done unto thee, and Almighty God have mercie on my soule. Farewell till we meete in Heaven, for on Earth thou shalt never see me more. This 2. of September, 1592, written by thy dying husband, Robert Greene.

Self-conscious or not, most letters are still technically private communications, hence off-limits to aesthetic and even moral judgements. We’re not supposed to see them in the first place. This out-of-boundness allows for unlimited freedoms. That's why some of the most intriguing letters are by mass murderers, those who could care less about normal constraints, boundaries or judgements:

Nov. 9, 1971
Dear Pastor Rehwinkel,
I'm very sorry to add this additional burden to your work. I know that what has been done is wrong from all that I have been taught and that any reasons that I might give will not make it right. But you are the one person that I know that while not condoning this will at least possibly understand why I felt that I had to do this.
1. I wasn't earning anywhere near enough to support us. Everything I tried seemed to fall to pieces. True we could have gone bankrupt and maybe gone on welfare.
2. But that brings me to my next point. Knowing the type of location that one would have to live in plus the environment for the children plus the effect on them knowing they were on welfare was just more than I thought they could & should endure. I know that they were willing to cut back but this involved a lot more than that.
3. With Pat being so determined to get into acting I was also fearful as to what this might do to her continuing to be a Christian. I'm sure it wouldn't have helped.
4. Also, with Helen not going to church I knew that this would harm the children eventually in their attendance. I had continued to hope that she would begin to come to church soon. But when I mentioned to her that Mr. Jutzi wanted to pay her an Elders call, she just blew up (This is not a criticism of Ed) & stated that she wanted her name taken off the church rolls. Again this could only have given an adverse result for the children's continued attendance.
So that is the sum of it. If any one of these had been the condition we might have pulled through but this was just too much. At least I'm certain that all have gone to heaven now. If things had gone on who knows if that would be the case.
Of course Mother got involved because doing what I did to my family would have been a tremendous shock to her at this age. Therefore, knowing that she is also a Christian I felt it best that she be relieved of the troubles of this world that would have hit her.
After it was all over I said some prayers for them all — from the hymn book. That was the least could do.
Now for the final arrangements:
Helen & the children have all agreed that they would prefer to be cremated. Please see to it that the costs are kept low.
For Mother, she has a plot at the Frankenmuth Church cemetary. Please contact
Mr. Herman Schellhas
Rt 4
Vassar, Mich. 41768.
He's married to a niece of Mothers & knows what arrangements are to be made. (She always wanted Rev. Herman Zehnder of Bay City to preach the sermon. But he's not well.)
Also I'm leaving some letters in your care. Please send them on & add whatever comments think appropriate. The relationships are as follows:
Mrs. Lydia Meyer — Mothers sister
Mrs. Eva Morris — Helens mother
Jean & Gene Syfert — Helens sister
Fred & Clara
Marie
Also I don't know what will happen to the books & other personal things. But to the extent possible I'd like for them to be distributed as you see fit. Some books might go in to the school or church library.
Originally I had planned for this Nov 1 — All Saints Day. But travel arrangements were delayed. I thought it would be an appropriate day for them to get to heaven.
As for me please let me be dropped from the congregation rolls. I leave myself in the hand of Gods Justice & Mercy. I don't doubt that he is able to help us, but apperently he saw fit not to answer my prayers they way I had hoped that they would be answered. This makes me think that perhaps it was for the best as far as the childrens souls are concerned. I know that many will only look at the additional years that they could have lived but if finally they were no longer Christians what would be gained.
Also, I'm sure many will say "How could anyone do such a horrible thing." — My only answer is it isn't easy and was only done after much thought.
Pastor Mrs. Morris may possibly be reached at
802 Pleasant Hill Dr
Elkin — Home of her sister.
One other thing. It may seem cowardly to have always shot from behind, but I didn't want any of them to know even at the last second that I had to do this to them.
John got hurt more because he seemed to struggle longer. The rest were immediately out of pain. John probably didn't consciously feel anything either.
Please remember me in your prayers. I will need them whether or not the government does duty as it sees it. I'm only concerned with making my peace with God & of this I am assured because of Christ dying even for me.
P.S. Mother is in the hallway in the attic — 3rd floor. She was too heavy to move.

John [List]
[from Lustmord, The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers (Burbank: Bloat, 1996)]

Originally Published: May 3rd, 2008

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...