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Letter

by Natasha Trethewey


At the post office, I dash a note to a friend,
tell her I’ve just moved in, gotten settled, that

I’m now rushing off on an errand—except
that I write errant, a slip between letters,

each with an upright backbone anchoring it
to the page. One has with it the fullness

of possibility, a shape almost like the O
my friend’s mouth will make when she sees

my letter in her box; the other, a mark that crosses
like the flat line of your death, the symbol

over the church house door, the ashes on your forehead
some Wednesday I barely remember.

What was I saying? I had to cross the word out,
start again, explain what I know best

because of the way you left me: how suddenly
a simple errand, a letter—everything—can go wrong.

 

Natasha Tretheway is the author of Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000) which won the 1999 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She is an assistant professor of English at Emory University. (2001)


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