Story A Day for May, Day 20


Saved Letters

Kate finished the editing the last batch of poems and went looking for more. There, in the back of the closet, sat a promising trunk. It held more spiral notepads, crammed with poetry, and a shoebox. In the shoebox, she found letters.

All the notes and cards she’d sent her grandfather were there. She quickly thumbed through the trails of her travel and career. The rest seemed to be from his students, including several from Celeste, requesting recommendations, expressing thanks.

And then there were these three, also from a student, but of a more personal nature.

San Francisco, June 1972


You said to let you know how I was getting on. I’m getting on all right.

I know you feel it was the right decision–choosing music and over academic life. But I’m not so sure. I was a good scholar–you said so yourself. I hoped to find a way to do both, you know?

But I guess I should look at the signs–I got a recording contract, so that’s a positive, right?

The album should be coming out in the fall. We’re about done recording, and soon, we’re heading into post-production.

I’ve been singing at festivals and coffee shops, getting my face out there.

But I feel like there’s this other me that never left the university, that stayed on to get my Ph.D. I miss those afternoons in your office, listening to you dissect the forces behind this screwed up system, and I feel like I’ve sold out, somehow, becoming part of it.

Do you really think–still–that art can make a difference?


London, 1975

Dear Solomon–

It’s been a while. Been busy.

I heard you got named professor emeritus. Congratulations. Guess that means you’re not teaching anymore? Or maybe just a class or two? Hope the lighter load agrees with you. More time for writing, yeah?

Things are cruising along. Guess you know, if you’ve had a chance to follow the scene. I try to keep a low profile, but it’s hard–runs counter to what the publicity agents want!

Thanks for your letter. I’m glad to know you liked the first album. Did you hear the others? I think they’re better–except for the one before this. It’s embarrassing–too pop for my tastes.

Next album will be acoustic. I want people to be able to hear the lyrics, you know?

I still think a lot about the things we talked about. There’s this one afternoon I keep remembering. We’d finished our Plato seminar, and a bunch of us tagged along with you to your office, like we always did. Remember that feeling? Ideas were bursting! We were like, running, to keep up with you–and we couldn’t talk fast enough or listen hard enough, and class was over, but we weren’t.

God, I miss that.

Performing’s a rush, when it’s not a drag. But the only thing that comes close to that is composing.

Anyway. That afternoon–I keep trying to capture it in this song I’m writing. But I don’t know how to get the voices, the sunlight, the shining eyes, your wild laugh, and then those silences when we were all thinking, at once, at the same time, and our separate thoughts combine into one structure, unspoken.

How do I capture that in a song?

I know. You would say, “Start with the poem first.”

And you could do it.

I keep remembering.


Seattle, 1979


Yes, I agree. To get one person to feel, for a moment, that shared experience of consciousness lighting up, within and without: that is enough.

You did that for me.

Thank you for saying that my last album did that for you.

I’m not sure how many more albums I have in me. I want do something else for a while. Teach, maybe.

I still think back on that other me that could have been, and sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see that bespectacled me, satchel on the back, stack of books in the arms, head bent with thought. Overhead, the squirrels chatter through their acrobats on the oak limbs, and beyond the green leaves, the sky–blue, blue, blue.

I think there’s a song there–Other Me

It’s this multitudinous feeling–life, and life, and all of possibility, and everything simultaneous.

You’re right: I am more poet than scholar, like you, my dear mentor.

Hope all is well with you and yours.

In that other life, the one that might have been, can you see me, stepping out of the library, looking across the courtyard, towards you?


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Prompt for May 20: “Write A Story In The Form Of A Series of Letters,” from

Third Letter to Brio

A letter to Brio


Dear Brio,

Thanks for being a patient pen pal. I realize I haven’t been the best correspondent. Life gets busy. But I want you to know that I appreciate you and your letters very much.

Your last reply helped so much. It arrived shortly before Octy was born. I felt relieved to know that everything I’d experienced was to be expected. Thank you.

Octy’s grown into a cute, chubby, happy little boy.


I feel privileged to have two healthy sons.

I almost had a third. That’s why I’m writing, Brio.


Did you ever have a pregnancy that didn’t make it to full term?

Shésti, the mother, explained that the embryo had been infected with a space disease, something called pfura. She didn’t go into details, and, frankly, I’m afraid to know. She actually didn’t talk to me about it at all. She told my elder son.

He relayed the information to me.

I already knew that fetus wasn’t alive.

I felt it spark the first day. But by the next morning, it felt cold.

They say that my body reabsorbs the tissue. So what was is now part of me. It’s OK. Pfura doesn’t spread to humans.

I guess I’m feeling OK. I wanted this child. I am very drawn to the beautiful woman who would have been his mother. She looks like Septemus, and, in fact, through a strange twist of fate, they are genetically kin.

I would have loved to have had a son who was genetically related to Septemus.


But it’s not to be.

I am trying to be philosophical.

At least Octy will be happy! He wanted to go on being the baby of the family.

I already have two healthy sons. But it’s hard not to mourn the one that isn’t to be.


Septemus is angry. He blames Shésti. He says that pollination technicians have the responsibility to ensure that the ovules used are pristine, for the health of everyone concerned. He says he and Octy could have become infected. I think he knows something of the disease, though he shifts the topic whenever it comes up.


We weren’t infected. We are, all three of us, healthy.

I am practicing counting my blessings. I was raised by my grandparents who knew loss, who spent plenty of time mourning, and who at the end of the day, always returned to saying grace for all they had received.

It’s an old-fashioned way. But it’s my family’s way. I’m a role model for my two sons. I want them to understand that loss is part of life. That we can feel sad and grieve. But we don’t need to harbor anger and blame.

When the sun sets, it’s our blessings that matter.


Brio, I hope that all is well with you and your family. I bet the kids are getting big! Fill me in on all their news.

Octavius says that since we aren’t getting a baby brother, we will get a puppy. So, maybe the next time I write, there will be a little spaniel chewing on my shoes in the middle of the living room floor!

Wishing you and yours the best,


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Septemus 48


Dear Panda,

I thought I’d write this letter to you in my head and see if you get it. Are you listening?

My pops writes me letters all the time. Sometimes I read them, but mostly I don’t. They’re sitting in a box in the closet, waiting for me. I have this idea that when I am very sad someday, I will pull out the box and read the letters, every single one.


How do I know I will be very sad someday? That’s just the way life works, isn’t it? We’re happy. Everything is great. And then something happens. Something we’ve always tried to prevent, and we’re sad.


But it doesn’t last. You know this, right? Even when you’re so sad you think that life might not even go on, or at least not the way that it did before, it changes, and then you’re smiling again.

Sometimes, I like to get mad. It’s a way to make the sadness go a little more quickly. I might yell and scream, “Yo! Yobaska!” You should try it sometime. It really helps!


Anyway, little sister, I wanted to write you in my head to thank you for letting me come visit. I think that might be one of the best times I’ve ever had. Seeing you was something.


Thank your mum, too. She really is amazing.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a mum. It must be especially nice. I bet her hands feel soft when she tucks you in at night or when she combs your hair. Of course, I don’t have any hair to comb! I do have a scalp to scratch, though!


If you ever wonder what it’s like to have a pops, you could borrow mine–or you could pretend that he’s your pops. He is quite distinctly awesome. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have him for my pops, but let me see if I can try, anyway.

Have you ever slept outside in the moonlight, and it feels like the nighttime cradles you in its starry cool fingers? And, at the very same instant, you feel like life is close and safe, while it is also vast and expanding?

That what it feels like to have Sebastion Sevens as my pops. It’s as safe as a cradle and as expansive as the universe.  My pops delivers the whole package.


Come to think of it, Harmony feels like that, too.

You and I are lucky, little sis. We’ve  got the best in mums and pops.

I hope you get this letter I’m sending! I hope you’ll come see me when you’re a bit older and can travel.

Until then, you know how to find me. Just whistle.

Your brother in all things always,


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Septemus 35

The 7uppo7ition7 of 7eptemu7 7even7

I wonder what can feel happier than to sit at the kitchen table, writing. Outside, mockingbirds call. Colors buzz. Breezes follow paths of least resistance. Tiny molecules, smelling of pollen, candy, and cappuccino, hitch rides on the moving air. All this happens out the window, while in here, I hear the scratch of my pencil on brittle paper.


“You’re writing!” That’s my pops. He’s a writer, too. Nothing makes him happier than to see me write or read or close my eyes, lost in a daydream or a song. When Pops is happy, I am happy. And when I, he, too.


“Son, is that your calculus textbook you’re writing in?”

It is.


I can’t help it. I love to write between the lines of printed text.


“Do you need me to buy you another journal?” asks Pops.

“No, I’ve got the old one,” answers I.

I shut the book with a satisfying schlump! and a puff of air whooshes my chin.


When I close my journal, it shuts with a sigh. All right for quiet thoughts, but nowhere near sturdy enough for any emotional magnitude!

Before bed, Pops joins me at the table with a plate of faux BLT for him and a slice of chocolate cake for me. I adore chocolate cake. It is my new favorite food. I think I will live on it.

When I was a little child, Pops wrote me letters. We have a shelf in the closet full of journals of letters to me. I have already begun to read them, though he said he was saving them for when I graduated from high school

“Why did you stop writing me letters?” I ask.


“I didn’t know you cared,” answers Pops.

“I love your letters,” I reply.

“When you were young,” says Pops, “we needed the letters, I felt, so that you could remember–so I could remember. But now, you’re nearly grown! You’ll remember everything without me writing it down.”

“But it’s not the same,” I answer. “You can write things in a letter that you can’t say.”

I think I forgot to say that out loud. It’s easy to forget. We can say things silently that we can’t say through talking.


“Would you like me to start writing again?” asks Pops.


“Please,” I say aloud.

“All right then,” says Pops.

“O, squeegee!”


With that important matter out of the way, I wash the dishes. I always wash the dishes. I have a thing for bubbles. Plus, if I wash the dishes, I can make sure that the faucet is turned off when I’m finished.

Have you noticed that bubbles connect? Inside a bubble is what, air–space. And the covering of a bubble is a tiny membrane of soap-water molecules, stuck together through soapy viscosity–or maybe the adherence of hydrogen molecules. I will have to look this up.

And then–this is the beautiful part–their little skins touch and stick to each other. Sometimes a cluster of three, four, five bubbles will rise up, floating on the currents of air! And what is in each one? The same as what is in the other.


You see, I can write this. But I don’t know if I could speak it. When Pops writes to me, I get to know his thoughts on things like bubbles, smiles, moonlight, and me.

I can hardly wait for his next letter. It has been so long!

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Forgotten Art: Jasper’s Profile

The Pen Pal Project Online Application

Please complete the following questions as accurately and honestly as possible. Your sincere responses will help us match you with the applicants most suited to correspond with you.


Name: Jasper McCumber

Select your age bracket: 62+

Profession: Retired Professor of Literature, University of Windenburg


How many pen pals are your interested in acquiring? Two-three

What qualities do you seek in a pen pal? Preferably, a fondness for writing, though, as evidenced by my responses, writing in complete sentences is not required. If my correspondents do not like to write, then drawings or other two dimensional means of communicating would be acceptable, and, perhaps, even desired. I could use a paper napkin or two with some artistic–or even-not-so-artistic scribbles on them. I would find beauty in them, anyway. Or at least, if not beauty, then something to ponder–some intriguing insight into the person who created them. I suppose, the rare three-dimensional object of communication would meet with approval, too, especially if that three-dimensional object happened to be an apple pie.


Do you have a desire to meet your pen pal face-to-face? Heavens, no! This is called “pen” pal, not “face” pal!


Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your reason for wanting to join the pen pal project: Was a time when folks wrote to each other, long, detailed letters sharing all the little elements that make up a life–the shape of clouds. The taste of wind. The songs of mockingbirds. The bubbling sound of beef stew simmering on the stove. And more than these little details, folks shared thought, feelings, insights, questions, confusions, and resolutions.

How did we come to stop sharing our inmost thoughts with each other?

I can’t do this in a text, or even in a long conversation on the phone.

Magic happens when two people write to each other the words forming in their brains, those words that can travel only through a pen or through fingers on a keyboard.

Think of Elizabeth Bishop’s letters to Robert Lowell. Or Thoreau’s letters to Margaret Fuller. Or Clara Schumann’s correspondence with Johannes Brahms.

For decades, I’ve been bemoaning the forgotten art of correspondence. The time has come for me to stop bemoaning and start acting.

I write not for posterity, but for the present moment: for the quickening of thought and pulse with another sentient being. Words change us. And I want to change and be changed.


After you have reviewed your application and made any necessary revisions or corrections, please click “Submit.” Only click once. Do not click “Refresh” or the back button on your browser.


The Pen Pal Project will notify you by email within ten days of any suitable correspondents we find for you.

Thank you for your wishes to participate in this project, and happy writing!


Author’s note: What’s this? It’s a new collaborative project, The Pen Pal Project! Want to take part? If so, check out the Forum thread or drop me a comment here!

Shift 22: A Letter


I’ve been thinking a lot about an assignment we received in English. It’s part of our epistolary literature unit.

We’re supposed to write a letter to someone who’s dead–or as my teacher says, “Someone who’s passed over.”


It’s funny to me to think of it as “passing over.” It’s like they were passed over for something. “No, sorry. You can’t keep on living. You’ve been passed over. Time’s up!”

But I know Ms. Twilson means “passed over to the other side.” I guess if she’s having us write to dead people, she must believe they’re still over there, somewhere. Otherwise, we’d be writing to empty space–to the space the person used to occupy.


I don’t mind thinking of it that way, actually–as writing to the space that person used to occupy.

Most of my classmates are writing to famous dead people. One of them’s writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. Another is writing to Abraham Lincoln. They’re writing for advice. How do we keep social activism alive at a time when the country feels divided? That’s what they’re asking.

I don’t know a lot about history, but I’m guessing that the country was really divided during Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eras, too. I bet they’d say, “Find bravery inside of you. Don’t give up. Speak out.”


I was thinking of writing to John Muir. I wanted to tell him that the mountains he loved are still here. They’re protected. He was so worried about destruction of the wilderness. I bet the space he occupied would smile to know that the land he loved is still wild.


But if I wrote to his empty space, I’d have to tell him about global climate change, too. And I’d be so depressed. His space would drip with sadness, too. If somebody does indeed “pass over,” then they’ll know what’s happening here, I guess. And if it’s just space. Well, the space would care, too, I would imagine.

I don’t know. It’s kind of a silly exercise.


But I think I’ll write to Gran. That doesn’t feel silly. I don’t think of her as having “passed over,” but I do think of her as still being. I mean, she died. Yeah, I was there. If she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be in this situation. I’d still be living with her.

But I don’t feel that she’s gone. She can’t have “passed over” because I still feel her here.

I talk to her, sometimes. Sometimes, I feel her, like I feel a warm hug inside. And I know that’s her.

Still, I bet she would like a letter from me.


Dear Gran,

It’s been almost two years since I heard your laugh.

I bet you’re wondering what’s up with me.

I am OK.


I didn’t have to go live with Uncle Scott. Don’t worry.

I had some tough times at first. But I made it.

I made some really good friends. Yuki’s been my friend for almost the whole time. And Deon is pretty much my guardian angel.

This whole time, I’ve learned things you always used to tell me, like how strong I am. Like how to take care. Like how something good can come from something bad.

I’m still running track. I’m not the super star anymore. But that’s OK. I’m getting stronger, and my times are dropping.

I go by a different name now, so it’s just as well that I’m not drawing attention through track.

One of my mentors here, Aadhya, says that I should start thinking about college. I know you would back her up on that.

I’m not ready to think about college. If I do that, I have to go by my real name. And I’m not ready to do that.

I’m still Jazz Deon. I think you’d like that name.

But I promise you, Gran, next year, I’ll start thinking about the future, and I’ll figure out something, OK? You don’t have to worry. I’ve learned that, too, from you and from all of this.

We don’t have to worry, because somehow, some way, we’ll manage, with help from friends, strangers, and the universe.

Love from your granddaughter,



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