Poem of the Week | March 09, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Love Letter to Elizabeth Bishop” by Ted Lardner!

Ted Lardner’s work has appeared or is forthcoming from Pleiades, Knell, Diagram, Birds Piled Loosely, Gone Lawn, Cleaver, One, Arsenic Lobster, and Blue Fifth Review. He teaches writing and literature at Cleveland State University. Lardner was a finalist for Missouri Review‘s 2019 Editors’ Prize contest.


Love Letter to Elizabeth Bishop

I could listen to this raven all day.
I’ve been listening all day, so what.
I’m saying, I don’t want to leave.
Don’t want to die. I want to listen,
all day, to a raven.

The longings we are born through floor me.
Until the end, they persist, they climb.
Remembering their origin,
they give us our lives. Everything’s trying to get back.
Wilderness closed ahead, closed behind.
We are guided by our hunger, our thirst.
Ablaze on the windshield, driving from Loveland,
switchbacks of lightning unlaced the hogbacks.
The canyon opened and took us in.

What is the universe trying to tell me?
How do you let the soul stand ajar?
What is the offering, the compassion, the feeling
you extend to yourself? Your hurt, angry self.
Your deathly afraid self.
Moon over the canyon.
Moonlight, when we get through, out on the park,
on the high snowfields. They seemed not like mirrors, really,
but not quite eyes. I watched them, shyly.
I always have. To see what they see.
The old hippies loved to talk about “light shows.”
Heat lightning would fly around,
checking up on the relationship between object and silence.
Oh, Elizabeth.
I’m not going to make it.
None of us are. “The mountains,”
you said, “look like the hulls of capsized ships.”
“Think of the long trip home.”

The deeper waves crash and pull.
I always felt them best here.
They are the home of the soul.
The bands of angels
have gone out the door.
The door is the body, the tissues and cells,
the pores fanned open or closed.
The soul loves this,
the body loves it back,
like, picture a barn, the quality of suddenness
with which you are startled
by the freewheeling flights, bats
who spiral and flare
high from the rock-edged ridge
above the far meadow.
Feel them disappear inside.
The flung-wide mouth
of the darkened cavernous mow.
I like the eyes, mouth, hands,
all the organs of joy,
how we breathe joy, as the smell of sweet hay
engulfs the rick of light,
as the cold rain in Grand Lake slaps
like a palm on the dust,
brings a sting to our eyes.


Author’s Note

I was writing for a week in the mountains last summer with my friends, Jack Martin, Sarah Murphy, and Jolie Clark. “Love Letter to Elizabeth Bishop” came out of our time there. I had pages—pages!—of notes that included two lines from “Questions of Travel,” but I was as one will be lost in the words. But I also had the cold sting of the smell of a mountain cloudburst, and when the deepening silence turned into Elizabeth Bishop listening at the end of a pier, I knew I could trust her; I could say what I wanted to say if I said it to her. So I wrote her this letter. There are lots of kinds of love.