As part of the 2020 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Grace Cavalieri in response to a video of her reading her poem “Safety” aloud. Grace Cavalieri wrote letters back to eleven of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Grace Cavalieri reads "Safety" for Dear Poet 2020.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
My name is Greta and I am a junior at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. In my composition class, my teacher Ms. Jorgensen asked me to listen to multiple poems and write a letter to the author of one of the poems which spoke to me the most. This poem “Safety” came across my list and made me think about aspects of my life that I can relate to.
“Safety” made my mind wander to ideas I have not thought about. It inspired me to think beyond the present and onto the past and also about upcoming events and how those events can impact my future. This poem is a true inspiration that all of life's crazy events tie together to create one story. The story that makes a mark in my life.
When I was a child, my grandparents told me a story of how they met. They said “you never really know what you are missing in life until you find it.” This statement has stuck with me. I asked them questions about what they thought they needed and what they found they never knew they were missing. Both of them stated “your grandmother” or “your grandfather”. They thought the missing part of their lives were each other and when they met, they knew they were meant to be with each other.
They met their first day of college at orientation while walking back to their dorm rooms. They knew right away they were each other's missing piece. After telling me the story of how they met, they always add this: “Events in your life will lead you to become what you want to be and where you want to go.” This made me tryout for the high school tennis team, talk to people who I was scared to talk to, and start volunteering at a nursing home and then eventually work at one.
I enjoyed how you stated that “How did that yellow vest feed your soul to let you know someday you’d fly a plane just to feel the power of a strap across your chest.” This sentence sat with me after reading your poem. It made me think back to what my grandparents told me about what can take me to where I want to be. Just like your husband being a crossing guard at a junior high school and having the authority of being that position leading him to go on to become something much greater. As he flew planes through gunfire and war in extreme conditions just to see you again. This is very touching to me.
How did you become the writer you are today? Did your husband, Ken, help and guide you to be the best writer you can be? Was he an influence in your story/journey? Did you feel like you were missing a piece of your story until Ken came along?
At the end of your poem I had to think hard about what you meant by this: “Although we were young, you were 15 and I was 13, since then, I’ve never known the world without you. Now I must be 12.” I love this line. It took me a while to figure out what you meant by “now I must be 12” but then I realized that is because you did not know him when you were 12 and it relates to the present.
I am touched by your poem and inspired to write about my future and the events that I hope will lead up to writing my story. I would like to say thank you for writing such an inspirational and creative poem that truly touched my heart.
Grace Cavalieri here.
I received your letter and read it many times. The first response I had was how beautifully you express yourself, next, how open you are—how language is effortless—and your emotions are so available to you. You said I touched your heart, and you touched mine. You are surely a writer!
I believe writers are born trying to understand the world through these hieroglyphics we call words. Somehow, everyone I know who writes professionally did so as a child. Therefore, I was just wired that way. You did mention something significant though. Ken was my main supporter and—because he was a metal sculptor—I was his biggest fan.
The first poetry prize I won was in 1956 after my first baby was born and I was too nervous to drive to the nearby hotel in Philadelphia where the award would be given. Ken sat in the car outside in the snow all day for me. I guess that says it all. And our dedication to each other’s art never wavered.
I feel your energy through your letter and I’m not surprised you’re on the tennis team. Writing is energy. Writer’s block is just lack of ego energy.
I shared your letter with my children and we all feel as if we know you, especially me.
People like you give people like me reason to go on.
Witten With My Best Heart,
Dear Ms. Cavalieri,
My name is Ana and I am a fourth grader at P.S. 58 in Brooklyn, New York. I read your poem Safety and I thought it was terrific. The poem made me feel like Ken Flynn was protecting me because the text showed that he would help strangers. I like how deep your poem is and how each word seems to mean so much to you. For example, when the text said "Now I must be 12," I think that was very powerful because your words show how much you miss him without actually saying that. The poem expresses how important it is to keep your loved ones feeling safe and protected.
I have a few questions for you about Safety:
1) Did you purposely repeat the word "strap" both times that Ken was helping people? 2) Did many other people feel like Ken protected him?
3) If he was here during the epidemic, do you think he would have helped people? 4) When you were in 7th grade, did you look up to Ken and want to be like him?
You write so much better than I did in the fourth grade— and once I taught that age group, and no one could express the way you do! I am impressed and overjoyed to hear from you. Your letter means a lot to me because it shows that you’re so thoughtful and empathetic.
First, thank you so much for appreciating my poem SAFETY. Your letter made me happy to think Ken is known by someone so far away and in a different world. I like your questions and will answer them, one by one.
I purposely used the word “strap” twice to join the idea that the strap that gave him courage when he was a crossing guard was symbolically the same strap that gave him courage when flying under fire.
Ken was a protecting person, and yes, many people felt safe with him, especially our four children. This is an interesting insight on your part and one never asked before. I always felt he was the kind of person who would jump into a freezing river to save someone, without thinking about it. I believe a hero is one who does not look back. I can remember, now that you ask, so many incidents when he “saved” people, emotionally, or actually. He attempted to rescue the first Prisoner of War in Viet Nam and was awarded the air medal for this.
During this epidemic he would certainly have obeyed the rules, for certain, as anyone of integrity would.
There’s no question in my mind that if someone needed help he would make any sacrifice without hesitation.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was too scared to talk to Ken. He was in the 9th grade and I thought would not look at anyone like me. Finally, we spoke on the sidewalk one day and we continued talking for almost 60 years.
My best thoughts to you ANA. Thank you for such caring questions.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
Hello, my name is Amber and I am a sophomore student attending Mrs. Anderson’s class of Hackettstown High School. I read and listened to your poem “Safety.” It did not take me long to realize that this was a love and appreciation poem to your husband, Ken Flynn. This is a beautiful poem that warmed my heart. I find it compelling that you realized your love for someone when you were only in seventh grade, younger than me. I love how you described the way he “wore that wide yellow strap,” the way everyone was behaved when he was in charge. The next few lines describe him flying through dangers in order to return to your side. I can only assume that means that he grew up to be a fighter pilot in a battle at some point. I can almost feel the love and appreciation radiating off of this poem, especially in the last few lines. The lines that explain your love for him, but also the very last line. The last line makes my mind drift to the idea that he had passed away. If this is true, I’m tremendously sorry for your loss. But the way the poem is written leads me to believe that this poem is not of sadness but of the memories of your husband. That last line stating, “Now I must be 12,” after the line saying that you couldn’t live without him since you were thirteen really made me realize the meaning behind the poem.
To imagine loving someone for so long, and them sharing the same feelings for you, and then losing them must be beyond hard. To imagine love before them and being forced to relive that life can only be almost painful. I cannot say I understand the pain this must have caused, all I know is that it truly hurts. I remember when my grandmother lost her husband on my mother’s side, and when my grandfather lost his wife on my father’s side. Both seemed like their hearts were torn, they both knew their spouses since they were young. I remember they were grieving for so long, it took about a year each for them to transfer from the stages of grief to the stages of appreciation of the life they shared together. It was hard for them, and, at the time, I couldn’t really understand the complicated emotions they were experiencing. Although I could sense a small amount of grief within your poem, it is more out of your love and gratitude for his life. I know that the loss of a loved one can be brutal at first, but it slowly graduates into recognition and thanks.
This poem is something that helps open the eyes of those who never experienced the death of a loved one. It gives guidance to those who do not yet understand that death is not meant to be grieved, but to be recognized and remembered. What battle did your husband fight in? Was he always a fighter pilot or did ha have a different career? This poem gives another meaning to love. It reveals that love is also loving someone beyond their passing and remembering them through the benevolent memories of their life.
I am stunned at the depth and beauty of your understanding. It makes me happy I wrote that poem!
First, I am honored that you put me in the same realm as your grandparents, and you describe our mutual experiences excellently and with compassion.
I am touched also by the way you personally reach out to me with your sympathy for all things lost.
To answer your question, Ken Flynn was a naval aviator who flew off nine carriers in 25 years. The poem you read refers to the Viet Nam war, where he did not have to kill, fortunately, but where he took fire trying to save a prisoner of war taken from a downed aircraft.
You ask what other career he might have had and that is a significant question. Because the military may retire young enough to start a new life, my husband became a metal sculptor, creating beautiful bronze pieces that healed him from the year of war. He spent the rest of his life creating works of art that will last. Art heals.
I love the way you write as if we’ve known each other before. The way you share personal information is a credit to you; it says that you trust the world. And you seem wise beyond your years, in the way you animate grief with personal knowledge.
I quote your last sentence, in your own words: “This poem gives another meaning to love. It reveals that love is also loving someone beyond their passing and remembering then through the benevolent memories of their life.”
Thank you, dear Amber.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
I loved your poem, “Safety,” especially your ability to turn the pain of losing the love of your life into something so beautiful. To be honest, when we first read your poem in class, it made me tear up.
Your concise language conveys the emotion of love and loss so clearly. Your line speaking of him “flying through gunfire and lightning” to keep coming home to you, spoke to me about how you two survived for so long literally and figuratively through the troubles that may have occurred through the years. I could see the connection between his passion for his profession, initially as a crossing guard and later a pilot, and his passion for what you two shared. The “wide yellow strap across your [his] chest” not only alludes to his passions but the protection it meant for your relationship. I viewed the strap as a symbol of the strong connection holding him to you and how he stands out as “the one” in a crowd of others. His protectiveness of you shows throughout the poem. I worry about you having to be ‘12’ again without his protectiveness. How have you relearned how to live without him anymore? What of his do you hold close to remember his protection and love?
I also would love to know even more about the connections you shared. This poem makes me happy that you were able to feel these emotions of connection and love for so long. The strong evidence of your connection makes your turn in tone all the more tragic and beautiful. The last line “Now I must be 12” holds the most emotion in just those five words. I think it may be my favorite line due to all the condensed meaning. I truly loved this poem.
Kansas City, MO
What a remarkable response to my poem SAFETY. If I made you tear up, you did the same to me.
It’s a miracle how poetry connects people who otherwise would never meet. This is because readers find themselves in the poem and bring to it their own feelings—in this case, the mercy of love through loss.
You asked about the connections I shared with my boyfriend- turned fiancé -turned husband -turned father--. We had the same values, which I think kept us together. We were both artists. (He became a metal sculptor after being a Naval Aviator.) The world of poetry and visual art was one of living fully.
We also liked the same food and would shop and cook together. He made bread which I could never do, and I was the food innovator. We loved films and responded alike to the same genres.
Let me see, we shared the problems of troublesome relatives and so we were a solid bond against any one threatening our union.
Mostly we filled in the spaces lacking in each other. I was not athletic and he taught me tennis and made me swim daily. He was not originally a “bookworm” but became the most knowledgeable person about poetry one could meet, assisting me in all my ventures.
You ask very pertinent questions that no one else thought to ask, and for this, allowing me to review my relationship, I thank you.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
My name is Sally and I am in 7th grade in Brooklyn, NY. The school that I go to is called Packer Collegiate. I enjoy reading about people’s experiences and how they shaped them to their present selves. In English class, we are choosing a poem that we like and writing to the author which is how I came across your poem. I really enjoyed reading your poem and it made me feel something that a lot of other poems did not. In the beginning, I was confused because I did not understand why you were telling this story and why you told the story of him wearing a yellow strap. Then I read the full poem to the end and it made me think of how it was like for you to be 12 again after you went through something like this. The ending is my favorite part because it wraps up the whole poem but leaving you with so many questions and wanting to reflect on your life.
I enjoyed the meaning of the poem because it made me think of how your childhood was like and how much these small moments meant to you. I understood through this poem how much you loved him even though you never said it. Especially when you say “I have never known the world without you. Now I must be 12 again” it makes me feel how much you miss him. What I got from this line was that when you were 12 you had never met him but now you have to go back to that place. You have to go back to when you did not have that safety with you and be more vulnerable. When you talk about how everyone felt safe when he was the crossing guard it is a simile for how you felt safe when he was with you. These lines are important because they bring in the poem and make you wonder but also think about your own life.
The way that you use figurative language to say how you have never known the world without him really brings the poem to life. Maybe you have to return to this place where you did know the world even though he is not alive anymore. The way you use hyperbole throughout the poem when you say no one threw a stone, the whole neighborhood would cooperate made it seem real. I bet when he did do that it felt like that to you and you were the neighborhood. He made you feel safe and you don’t know a world without him. This might not even be hyperbole and he actually did do that.
Thank you so much for letting me read this piece. The poem really made me understand you and what you have gotten through. What has your life been like after this moment? I hope that you have found this comfort in your life without him even though it must be hard for you.
It’s very gratifying to a writer to find a reader who understands her work.
You clearly entered the poem with an openness and wish to experience it completely. I am honored and rewarded by you. I can’t believe you’re in the 7th grade, the same age I was when I met my future husband—who would become the subject of this poem.
I did not have your faculty with language when I was your age, and I think you must have wonderful encouraging parents and teachers. You write so well, and truthfully. I always look for the truth in everything I read and it is what connects to the heart.
You ask what my life has been since I wrote this poem--an interesting and thoughtful question.
I’ve written three books of poems about my marriage and my loss and Ken’s life. I never knew there were so many different things to say but when we realize we are different every day, then it’s natural that language can always be new.
Some wise person said we always write the same story. Maybe I do because I only know what it is to be Italian, born in Trenton, the mother of four, and an artist. Why would I want to write about anything else? I can make fiction out of this background, and I do, but my inner core will show through and that is what we call “the voice.”
Again to answer your question: “what has life been like since…”—The answer is: ART HEALS. I immerse myself in reading and writing and teaching young poets like yourself. I have a radio program about poetry; and so productivity is a medicine in itself.
Hearing from you, and people like you, is a rush of energy. I know I’m never alone. And for this I Thank You very much for writing.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
As I finished reading your poem Safety for the first time, I couldn’t help but re-read it over and over again. Without even realizing, the suspense in your writing has captivated me. The last line of your poem “now I must be twelve” was very striking. At first, I did not know anything about the poem you wrote besides the title. It felt like an ordinary love poem told in the format of a story. Reading through your poem for the first time felt relatively straightforward; however, as I read that last line, I realized the true meaning of your poem.
It felt unusual. As you went through your beloved memories of the past, it felt strange for me to be reading what you’ve written. It felt like I was reading something private, something I shouldn’t be reading. Although it was as if I was imposing in your recollection, I couldn’t help but keep reading. This poem is heartwarming, but subtly grim as well.
The way you progressed through each specific memory was extremely fluid. It was almost as if I was in that exact moment with you. I find it amazing how you were able to efficiently express your emotions through a story with very few lines. As I was analyzing your poem, I kept thinking about how short but emotionally packed your poem is.
I constantly wondered how it would feel to be “twelve again”; to go back to a world without knowing or meeting someone immensely important. Did you find a new source of safety? Is this safety reliable? Is it as comforting as before?
Safety has helped me realize that I should cherish every moment I have. It reminds me that in life, each memory and moment is unique and will only happen once in a lifetime. Whether it be a big event or a trivial matter, I’ve learned to acknowledge all of my experiences. You never know when you may lose someone or something, so in order to have the least amount of regret, I want to be able to say that I lived out each moment of my life to the fullest.
You state that, in your words, you wish “to live out each moment of my life to the fullest.”
Well, anyone who could write such a letter to someone, as you have to me, certainly will always be aware, sensitive, and alive in the moment. You wrote an extraordinary letter and ask profound questions.
“DID I FIND A NEW SOURCE OF SAFETY?” You ask. What a caring remark.
My answer is that I never thought I could live life without my protector, although, as a Navy wife I lived alone for months at a time. But then I always knew someone was coming back to me. Now that is not so, but Art is a way of living twice. In writing, I enter a realm of safety where the past and the present can co-exist, so nothing is totally lost.
You ask if this new safety “is reliable” and “Is it as comforting as before”— You make me stop and examine myself carefully. No one ever asked this. In a way, the present is more reliable because I have found my self-sufficiency and overcome my worst fears. Comfort is a very temporary word, because I connect it to the smell of the hyacinth, or the feel of my pillow, or the taste of hot tea…so yes, my life is an comforting as before. Not the same, but not diminished.
Remember I started this letter by saying living in the moment, being aware, was the way to living fully. This is where comfort is.
I congratulate you for the depth of your thoughts and your feelings. And I’m grateful that you took the time to write me.
Dear Grace Cavalieri:
My name is Angelina and I am currently a junior in high school. I was given the opportunity to read your poem “Safety” for my English class. I was able to read other poems written by different poets, but yours resonated with me the most. I love the storyline and the connections you created throughout the poem. The way you illustrated the story of your husband in such a brief but effortless way left an impact on me. Your poem demonstrated how a work of literature could deeply affect one’s emotions and thoughts. An aspect of your poem that stood out to me was when you connected the strap that your husband wore as a crossing guard when he was young, and the seatbelt that he wore as a pilot in the army. That aspect helped me, as a reader, understand that the authority your husband felt as a crossing guard wearing that strap ultimately inspired and led him to his passion as a pilot in the army, where he was able to feel that same power and liberation. The line “flying through gunfire and lightning again and again to come back to me” illustrated the unconditional love you and your husband have for one another. It was probably my favorite line in your poem because I have a soft spot for love stories. Another element of your poem that stood out to me was the last line, “Now I must be 12.” It meant that you had to live in time without your husband. Your poem took me through a roller coaster of emotions, happy, hopeful, strong, etc. However, when I read the last line my heart sunk. It was a heartbreaking yet powerful line.
As a writer, you have the opportunity to use your platform to influence others. How do you use your platform? And what message or emotions are you trying to get across to the readers in your writings? I am not one who usually reads literature for fun or in my free time, but I am very grateful to have come across your poem “Safety.” It gave me a new outlook on how a piece of literature could make me feel. I loved every line. Thank you for writing this poem.
When you said “I loved every line” I felt such gratitude that it’s almost too much to express. But as writers we MUST express, and so let me say that you have not only written a letter but reached out to touch my hand. That’s what it felt like to have you changed by the poem.
I hope other writers are blessed with such a response because it means more than money or fame. It means everything to cross miles, nationalities, races, religions—to find our common humanity. This is what you’ve given me. Your humanity.
You ask some pertinent questions which I will answer now. You wondered how I used my “platform” as a writer to influence others. This strikes at the heart of an artist; for art does not wish to persuade others. Politicians do. Salesmen do. Artists have the obligation to find the truth in themselves and then to say it clearly, hoping finding some beauty in language along the way. The best way to be a writer is to not think about publishing or awards or recognition. That way you don’t waste energy, and then you don’t get lost.
You also ask the very interesting question about “message.” Once again, we poets hope that if we shine a light on the deepest experience in ourselves, it will relate to the deepest experience in another. So there is no overt message. That too would be for folks in other fields who want to influence on purpose. If the writer influences at all, it is unintentional and pure luck. Our job is to notice things and then report them to the world like gifts.
The fact that you don’t go to “literature; first for a pastime, makes me very grateful that you accepted my poem. And that you got a new “outlook” is more precious to me than a coffer of gold.
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
My name is Maha, and I am a seventh grader in Long Island, NY. In English class, we’ve been analyzing poetry, trying to decipher its meaning through metaphors and imagery. Now we’ve been assigned to take part in Dear Poet 2020 and write a letter to a poet of our choice. I came across your poem and instantly I was hooked. The touching way you read your poem made me feel the emotion you put into this poem.
This poem relates to me because I’ve also lost people close to me in life. Thankfully, none of them have passed away, but they aren’t close with me anymore. They would stay in my life for a significant period of time, and they were the world to me. I always thought that they would be by my side no matter what, but they ended up leaving me in the end. We would drift apart after countless fights over petty things. When they left, I felt a gaping hole in my life where they used to be. Life didn’t feel quite the same without them. I ended up having to go back to a life that I believed isn’t as good as a life with them. I had to return to life without their comfort and presence with me, having to accept that people change and can’t stay forever. I thought it would be impossible to get over it, but your poem helped me realize that it is possible, and that sometimes we have to learn to let go.
When you read your poem, I really felt the emotion. And strangely enough, you seemed calm reading this, and that calmness made me feel that you have come to accept your husband’s passing (Rest In Peace). One part I absolutely love about your poem and my favorite part is the ending line when you said, “Although we were young, you were 15 and I was 13, since then, I’ve never known the world without you. Now I must be 12.” The way you read it sent chills down my spine. Really, it was a powerful and touching ending line. For me, it meant that you now had to return to your life before you met him and continue with the life you had before. Additionally, the imagery of your poem was stunning. I could almost envision his crossing guard vest transforming to the strap holding him on his pilot’s seat.
After reading your poem, I thought of a few questions: Do you find yourself at times missing your husband, more than usual? Sometimes I find myself perfectly fine without them one day, then the next day missing them so badly. How do you cope with loss? Especially heartbreaking and personal losses. Is it hard to write poems about personal experience, and how were you able to find the words to capture the feelings you were feeling?
Thank you for writing this captivating and incredible poem. After reading your poem “Safety”, I read your other works, and they are just as remarkable. Thank you for being a brilliant writer.
Long Island, NY
You call me a brilliant writer; and I call you the same. You write beyond your years with intelligence and truth and lyricism. I am in awe with what a 7th grader thinks and feels. I would never have had such a gift at that age. I believe you will be a writer. Yes?
I say this because you are so present in your feelings, and so aware of what twists and turns life offers. You speak of loss of friendships and you understand, clearly, how to relate to that, and to my words.
With loss, big is the same as small. It feels the same, and so we have known the same thing, although we have never met each other in person. This is the amazing thing about poetry, bringing us together where we find ourselves in others’ lives.
You ask good questions which I will answer, in kind:
You ask whether I miss my husband sometimes more than others. Yes. Definitely. When I am busy and productive and surrounded by people, I’m distracted. When I hear a song on the radio that we danced to, I feel something very deeply. With every memory, though I’m grateful because each thought is a piece of the puzzle that is my life.
Perhaps you can think of your losses that way. You had friends who left and you miss them. But what did you learn from that? If it made you more sensitive to others’ losses (my loss) then it was a gift. Maybe you wouldn’t be so compassionate a person if you hadn’t had these hard episodes.
You ask if it is difficult to write personal experiences. Well, you prove to me that I don’t have to be afraid, or ashamed, or fear rejection. If what I say is true and I say it carefully with visuals and details, and my intention is not to harm, why should I be afraid? People like you give me courage.
You wrote a wonderful letter. Thank you
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
I really connected with your poem “Safety”. After my grandfather passed I was suddenly able to remember memories of him much more vividly and with more meaning connected towards the memories. In your poem, you remember how strong your husband looked when he wore “that wide yellow strap”. When I started to analyze your poem for this letter, I immediately thought of how when my sisters and I were younger and we would visit my grandfather, we would all walk to the nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. The employees and regular customers at the McDonald’s knew my grandfather and I always felt a strong sense of pride when they would greet him and then ask how we were doing. I am so thankful that I read your poem because it helped me remember those moments with my grandfather where I looked up to him and saw him as an idol.
It took a while for me to come to terms with my grandfather’s death since it was the first death of someone that I loved that I experienced. I had to realize that, even though he was gone, I was going to feel happiness again and eventually come to terms with his death. That is why your line “Now I must be 12” stood out to me so much. It has a sad meaning in that that was a time before you met Mr. Flynn. I can understand what it is like to live in a timeline without someone and wish you could travel to a time where they were safe, and with you. That being said, the more I thought about the line “Now I must be 12”, the more I could see a happier meaning. When you were 12, you did not know Mr. Flynn. However, when you turned 13, you met him and your life was better for it. I think this line means that even if it is sad now, there will be happiness in the future that will pick you up and make your life better. Thank you for writing this poem. It helped me understand how I can remember all the good moments from a person’s life and how I can look up to them because I knew he would protect us. Your poem helped me realize that I can have the happiness I had while my grandfather was still alive without forgetting him or disregarding his memory.
You have given me a precious offering. The fact that my poem about loss triggered your life with your beloved grandfather makes me grateful and comforted.
How easily you speak of your emotions, how vividly I see you in McDonald’s at breakfast. This is the most important thing. You described a place and a time and an occasion so perfectly, that I could visualize this. You let me see through a porthole into your private life.
How did you know to be so specific? Any expression of understanding would have been good, but the fact that you created a scene and entered it, astonished and delighted me. You took understanding to a new level, sharing intimacy, bringing me into your life at that moment.
Your response to my poem “Safety” is my reward for being a writer. The heart connection between reader and writer is a spiritual connection and one with great resonance. I will always keep your letter because I see great love in you, and that gives me faith in people, and strength to “write-on.”
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
My name is Parker, and I am in 7th grade. Out of all of the poems I read, I was able to connect to your poem the most. A personal connection I have to this poem is losing someone I really care about and finding how to live without him. I lost my grandfather almost 2 years ago, and I can relate to the feelings you created throughout the poem. It was clear from your choice of words and voice, that the poem is about your husband and how much you admired him from the moment you met him. It goes on to show how he changed your life for the better and how you realized that life would not be the same without him. I admired my grandfather and cherished every moment I spent with him. I was especially drawn to the part where you were remembering all the memories you shared. At the end of the poem when you say, "Now I am 12," it is referring to how you have to spend the rest of life without him. Your life now is a snapshot of what life would have been like if you never met him. Now I am 13, and I am spending my life without my grandfather and realizing that life is not the same without him.
Perhaps the underlying meaning is what captured my interest the most. At first, I only focused on the actual words of the poem and understanding what you were trying to convey. After digging deeper and reading it several more times, I started thinking a lot about the strap and its significance both to the poem and the connection to your life. In the poem, it represents safety and confidence because of your husband ‘s role as a crossing guard and eventually a pilot. However, I was able to see the safety of the strap from your perspective. Your husband protected you and you felt the most comfort when you were together. Now that he is gone, you have to navigate life without his comfort and strength. The safety strap is no longer there, and you now need to make and wear your own strap and build new confidence. My grandfather was the person in my family who wore the strap and protected and comforted us. Now we all have to make and wear our own strap and gain confidence and comfort he would have given us if he was still here, but he still gives us in his heart.
My teacher, Mr. Prucey, challenges us to write various pieces of writing and encourages us to look from all perspectives and connect to the deeper meaning. Thank you for sharing this touching poem and encouraging me to find my own strap of confidence and strength.
Your letter means a lot to me. I am deeply moved by the ending of your letter where you find your own “strap of confidence.” Where did you learn to be so articulate? Your experience with your grandfather is so vividly explained with such a true heart and I connected immediately.
My grandsons had such a similar relationship with their grandfather, the subject of my poem. They won’t even go into his workshop now where he spent so many hours teaching them woodworking.
I want to tell them of you, and ask if they will please find their own straps of confidence and strength as you have.
You see, the reader also inspires the writer. I received so much encouragement and compassion in your letter that I marvel at your upbringing, and Mr. Prucey has a big part in this, I’m sure. I should thank him, as well, for making my poem available. And I do.
When one has been “protected” as you say, early on, it’s easier somehow to be self-reliant later. I’ll bet you feel that—It’s as if you’ve been nourished by your grandfather in a way that will last forever. I want to know if my grandsons feel this, and you prompt me to ask them such an important question.
The fact that you talk with such ease about your personal life makes me wonder if you will become a writer? I say this because of your flow of thought into words, and the ease with which you use the page.
But more than anything, I see in you your humanity, a very essential thing to pass along in life.
I cannot believe you’re in the 7th grade. Your generation must come from a star planet. It seems so far ahead of the 7th grade I knew.
With my greatest good feelings and thanks,
Dear Grace Cavalieri,
Your poem, “Safety” caught my eye very quickly and I keep going back to it to analyze or relate to. It honestly might have been that the structure of the poem made it look shorter than the others, but when I read it I realized that I know the feeling you talk about. I understood the emotion in the lines, “Although we were young, you were 15 and I was 13, since then, / I’ve never / known the world without you. Now I must be 12.” You might be thinking, how could a 16-year-old have any idea of how this feels? Well, my best friend growing up isn’t my best friend anymore. Nothing traumatic and heart-breaking happened between us, but I haven’t seen him in 8 years. The last time I saw him was at the annual end of summer party in elementary school. We played wall-ball with my friend Abigail and then I said good night and jumped in my dad’s car. If someone told me that that would be the last time I saw my best friend for over 8 years, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have thanked him for sticking up for me and told him to keep in touch, no matter how old we got. A lot of time has gone by and I forgot that we were even close till my mom mentioned it was his 14th birthday and showed me a photo of him that his mother posted on Instagram. I didn’t recognize him when I saw the photo 2 years ago, so I don’t think we would even notice if we walked past each other on the street. Maybe one day I will see Turner again, but for now, he remains a memory from another life and a stranger in this one.
This poem taught me that respect doesn’t only come to those that are leaders, but to the ones who protect us. In this poem, safety comes in the physical form, where the boy is your soldier, your guard. In my life, Turner was my best friend, my first crush, and the first person I remember who looked out for me. We were both the younger siblings of the family and whenever I wanted to play with the older kids, I was normally excluded and pushed to the side. He would pick me back up and tell me something like “they are losers anyway,” or “come on let's go find the others, they want to play Mario Kart.” Whenever he would choose me over the big kids or his guy friends, he would get teased on, but he never seemed to regret his decision. I remember him as you remember the person you speak of. I respected him because he looked out for others instead of himself. This isn’t to say he wasn’t a trouble maker, because he was, he was a 7 year old boy so I don’t blame him. Although he was known for being a rebel when wanting to be, he somehow always found a way to be my crossing guard. He was the crossing guard for me and many of our other friends and that is why this line reminded me of him, “no one bruised another, caused trouble, or so much as threw a / stone—.” We respected him because he cared for me and my friends despite any problems in his life. Your school respected the boy you speak of because he resolved conflict and stuck up for what is right. He kept this respect throughout his whole life. This poem shows that respect is given to those who care, who protect, and those who leave a good memory.
Throughout the poem there are certain words that are separated from their connecting lines that show where a breath would be if reading it outloud, for example, “No one / was disobedient when you wore that wide yellow strap across / your chest— / no one bruised another, caused trouble, or so much as threw a / stone—.” There are many spaces and it makes me read the poem as if there is a lot of emotion. There is a sadness that lingers, but with that the spacing gives me a sense that there is also strength involved. The placement of the breaks makes me think of a woman telling a story, but when she tells it, she remembers him as a light. That light isn’t there anymore, but she doesn’t regret ever having it. This poem also has a theme of honor, till the end. She describes this boy as a hero and a monumental person in this junior high school. He is essential for safety and happiness. At the end, the honor isn’t disregarded, but it is no longer acknowledged. The speaker isn’t angry and disappointed with the boy, but the honor she once associated with him is gone, because he is now absent from her life. When did he become a stranger? I often think about that when I think of Turner, so now I ask you. If you saw him again, would you get a rush of security and joy, or would you walk past as if he never was the brave man in uniform that you once knew? Did you know it was the last time you said goodbye when you did and what happened to him?
Thank you for inspiring me,
Dear Mary Blake,
Your letter gripped me with such intelligence and light that I had to draw my breath for a moment. Then I read it again. What I love is your story about Turner and how much he meant to you, and how you keep studying the relationship and asking where it went, and what happened. These are exactly the questions that a writer asks in the process of creating a piece of work.
You took me into your confidence, and for that I will always be grateful. That my poem softened the earth so that you feel free to tell me your secrets – well that’s the greatest honor you could give. Thank you.
The next part of your letter that startles me is your understanding of line breaks—how you know breath control—how you perceive that the arrangement of phrases is the way we demonstrate feeling. You’ve learned a lot about poetry, more than I knew, grade ten.
When you saw “space” as indicating strength you may have taught me something about my own poem that I didn’t know—the way we place lines is the way we want it read, because it’s the spoken word “said” on the page. I never thought of strength as I wrote it, but now I believe it is there. The reader teaches us so much, that is a GOOD reader.
To answer your question:
If I saw him again, I would feel as if I were young and looking forward to my “first date.” I would not walk past him, that is for sure.
And your next question:
I did say goodbye after my husband’s brief two-week illness.
We were all at his side. And as he was a naval aviator, so we knew he would not be afraid of the flight.
Very sincerely yours,