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The Letters

This week the letter from my mother
is a half-page long, the handwriting
shaking its way across the paper.
She was proud of her penmanship.

Each loop had been perfect, each
word aligned with the next, each T
crossed as if she used a level.
It was her elegance, a dignity

she held between thumb and
forefinger. "Not much to say,"
she writes. "This room is a room.
They will move me to another."

She always writes on Friday.
"Good way to end the week,"
our years connected from there,
upper left corner, to here centered

perfectly. She would fill two pages
with her crisp judgment of a book,
a movie, descriptions of her times
swimming, dancing, going

to hear the "news lady" talk about
the week's events, how she'd done
on the quiz, and what "The Colonel"
had ordered everyone to do: "Feed

the birds! Clean up the leaves
in front of your place! Support
the troops!" Now she writes,
''I'm tired."

My wife is sleeping on the couch.
It's late afternoon. I watch her
breathing, start to count the breaths,
wonder why, stop. The cat dashes

by. Bees hum in the bee balm.
I pour a cup of coffee, steady it
with milk, stir until it turns from
coal to caramel, the steam rising,

the long evening beginning
to spread itself outside the window.
I look across the room, notice
on the shelf our Scrabble game,

think of the tiles, each letter singular,
able to take its place within a word.

Jack Ridl

Practicing to Walk Like a Heron
Wayne State University Press

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