What I Was Looking For
were the unsent letters she’d left me years ago
and which I hadn’t had the heart to read.
I’d found everything else. Or rather,
everything that could be found
on paper, loose and bound, large, small,
smaller still, the size of fortunes fluttering to the floor
like moths, a message on each wing.
So many poems, by me but mostly others,
some on slick paper I’d cut poorly from a page.
My mother always said I was bad at scissors,
and I’ve often accidentally cut myself
as if to prove her point. But now, both parents dead,
it was time, I thought, I had the time and
courage, I thought, and I found the letters—
I was going to say, in the last place I looked,
but of course, where else?—and when I read them
they were a marital memoir full of disappointments
as familiar to me as my own
skin, and the bitter recriminations she was desperate
to impart so that I might . . . avenge her? forgive her?
I can’t say for sure. All I know is
I buried them both, in separate graves. I held their bodies
and most of their words and made my own from theirs.
I lay them down on this white field, another, another,
and another. If you look for us, look behind
the letters, beneath the field to the blood.
Copyright © 2023 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
“After my mother died, I stashed the few things I’d salvaged from her apartment in a closet until I had time to look through them. Then I forgot where I’d put them. Six years later, I wrote this poem.”