Dear Elizabeth

This poem won Second place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2008

Your letters have kept me company for weeks

but now I feel the wrench of parting, the book

about to end, and so I read more slowly, put

it down, rattle around aimlessly in my study.

Proof of my affection, this delay, in finishing.


How alive you are on the page, and how like

a vessel, this large book, containing glimpses

of your life, messy and confused as

a pebble beach. No detail too small you wrote,

and article by article you share the toucan,

the nervous cats, housekeeping, the heat.

There you are, practicing your “life-long

impersonation of an ordinary woman.”*


Lit by the filament of poetry, you didn’t buckle

under loss but made an art of it – Awful but

cheerful is carved on your gravestone,

your own words, there at your request.


Reading your letters I want to write back.

I’d send you this statement “The primary

function of the thorax is respiration” hoping

you’d turn it into a poem – one stanza

perhaps holding the sienna gleam of

a beetle making its slow way across

a wide leaf, rhythm laboured and chancy

as your own asthmatic breathing.


* Poet James Merrill spoke of Elizabeth Bishop’s “instinctive, modest, life-long impersonation of an ordinary woman.”