1st December 2003
Dear John,
Counting Blessings.

I put aside the idea of
A letter-poem in May, in answer
To your email – to visit
A friend in Melbourne
Who was dying of cancer.
We’d visit the husband’s father too,
But a week before we left we knew
He was dead, his wife
Too boiled in spite to grieve,
Having kept him broken-legged
In the bed, a fortnight until
A blood-clot got him
And he could finally leave.

We visited death every day
As it took up residence in our friend’s face,
Her skin, its mask,
The scar on her bald skull
Not as wide as her smile,
Her fingers knitting up her past,
Her present and the time left last
As she spoke, as frank as the saw
That cut her head open,
As if she’d knit up the cranial hole
And restrain her evaporating soul.
Hours with her were delicate straws – like glass,
Clasp too hard and all that’s left
Are scars and shards to mark the loss.

Back in England whole dead trees
Piled on the mat by the mailbox,
Sliced, pulped and rollered through printers,
They’d collected in heaps. It took weeks
To undo all the things delayed
Until I got back to letters in May.

We forgot our wedding anniversary
For the seventh time today.
I was reminded by dating
The back of a dog painting,
Realising she was as old as our marriage.
We ate pizza from cardboard
And drank Veuve Clicquot
From fish-stemmed glasses,
Bought on a walk in New York,
And for a few moments watched
Each other’s colours sink
Back into the stain
Of our outlines, illuminating
Our deep breath before the next
Upheaval scatters our purpose again.


23rd November 2005
Dear Frieda,
Belatedly — very belatedly,
I am replying to your letter-poem,
your epistle. I am working on a book
with the working title First Meetings
with Poets, and you’re the subject
of one of the chapters. And that
got me to thinking about text
as the first and truest
of meetings, that ‘in-person’
supplements the poems,
the emails… increasingly,
and not the other way around.
But then, whole friendships
have been historically
conducted through letters —
Elizabeth Barrett, though she finally
met her close but distant neighbour,
Boyd, becoming his scribe…
At the moment, for me, it’s all neologisms.
Oh, I did draft an earlier letter — god,
it would be over two years ago now,
not long after receiving yours…
ironically, I’d just got back
from outside Australia — there’s Australia,
and then there’s ‘outside Australia’ —
as you know — when a horrendous accident
(choppers, numerous police cars,
even a crane to remove steel rods that had broken loose
from a semi — we later heard it was the local
MP’s wife who had been crushed
under the vernichteten weight) caused
all traffic to be diverted before the Chidlows turn-off,
via Wooroloo, onto the Great Eastern Highway,
then back south to the Lakes to hook up
with the Great Southern Highway…
I drove down the Great Southern this morning…
three days on the same road I suffered a kind of death,
sucked into vacuum by a speeding truck,
blanking out and thinking hell,
I’m caught in some kind of vortex,
I’m still driving, but driving dead…
seriously, no joke…
full moon has meant roos out
and the gravel shoulders
are littered with carcasses
caught in that supine praying position
(there’s no parody in this)…
I can’t stop thinking about Paul Celan’s ‘ichten’,
and the paranoia that keeps you constantly
looking in the mirror, watching out
for police traps…
looped together in myth,
we can’t talk our way out of allegory
or cause and effect,
as trapped in the body of text
is the archetypal flower
that pokes its head up
to be lopped off: I saw this
when the birds undid the sheep,
when the sheep ate the grass
and there was nothing left.

John Kinsella

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