Handwritten letters belong to you like your DNA

When Kiran Sidhu rediscovered letters her aunt had written 20 years ago, she could picture her and hear her voice. The discovery transported her to a precious time in her family life in a way that a text or email never could

A small tug on the thread of nostalgia can unravel a whole garment. One Sunday afternoon, I came across a trove of letters in a battered hatbox in the cupboard underneath the stairs. The letters had been written in the 90s while I was at university; some were from friends, but most notably, many were from my aunt, Martha. I was 20 and she would have been 30. She died at the age of 36, so the letters had a piercing poignancy.

The letters were not a dramatic discovery of a fossilised communication method (I am still well acquainted with letter writing – I spend many of my Sundays writing to friends and family). Some things in life need distance for us to acknowledge their true value – youth, health and letters. I have always been enamoured with the romance of letters, but even I did not imagine the significance of something that was signed, sealed and delivered 20 years ago.

There is a certain deliciousness that comes with opening a letter that has already been opened decades previously; there is a feeling of rediscovery and an introduction to a lost conversation.

I opened these quietly ageing letters, but not without trepidation; would they bring anguish or comfort? I recognised my aunt’s flowery writing and how her capital As were simpy larger lowercase As. I sat cross-legged on the floor as if it were story time, an adult story fragranced with childhood romance; Aunt Martha, storyteller extraordinaire.

“Kiran, it’s raining outside and your mum just left my house. Your mum made pakoras at mine and we laughed about how you still can’t make a curry! Hurry up and come home, I’ll bake a cake. Oh, yeah, forgot to tell you, I miss you!”

It is magical how words arranged in a particular order, immortalised in a letter, can make their way through your fingertips and travel through your veins until all you can feel is heart. Her words described moments in time, now lost in space, or wherever it is that cherished moments and departed souls go. My aunt and my mother had untimely deaths, but the letters I held in my hands cemented a time when they both walked the Earth.

I imagined my aunt sitting at her desk, coffee by her side, maybe a slice of cake (she was a keen baker), casually writing to her niece, unaware that she was documenting my family’s history; that, years later, I would literally hold her letter close to my heart, a remnant of past times and reminder of the way my now-fractured family once was.

One letter expressed my aunt’s concern at my capacity to drink. “Hey Kizz Wizz, I’m worried about you. Not sure if I like you drinking until you’re sick! Your letter has worried me!” I remember reading it and how it had annoyed me in my youthful bravado. Now as I re-read it, I could clearly hear her voice in the singsongy way that she spoke, and was grateful that I had an aunt who cared. I’m not much of a drinker now: was there really a time I could drink that much?

These ageing and yellowing objects are the reasons I still write letters in an age where such a practice is seen as archaic. There is a joy in receiving a letter in the post, a hidden gem: a piece of someone’s heart among the bills. Getting an email or text really doesn’t compare: it is just another screen to look at. TV screen, computer screen, smokescreen.

Emails and texts act like the middleman between the author and recipient, technology even dictates your words by guessing them and filling them in for you. The pen, however, begs to be enslaved; it needs to belong to you. I would have never been able to enjoy my aunt’s flowery writing if she had sent an email, where all of her As and Ts would have looked the same. And I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the silly face she drew as she signed off every letter. A letter is an act of creation in a way an email can never be. When someone sends you a handwritten letter, you receive a part of who they are.

There is a ritual in writing a letter, there are small decisions that need to be made: which paper, which pen? I like the way my pen hovers above the paper and the tiny moments of stillness as I consider my choice of words. I like the way writing letters forces you into a quietude in a helter-skelter world. Once posted, I imagine its journey, from the postman to the van, the sorting office to the postman who will hand-deliver it. I think about all the hands that have exchanged my letter in order for it to drop with a little thud on the recipient’s floor. I imagine the smile on my friend’s/aunt’s/cousin’s face when they see what I have sent. Handwritten letters are tangible works of art as unique as your fingerprints: like your DNA, your letters belong to you.

Hidden between the books on my shelf are notes and cards from anniversaries and birthdays – it is my way of keeping them. They are secrets that are whispered among the books, that tell tales of love and adventure, they join hands with famous authors in our need to tell stories. They are hidden between my philosophy books, squeezed between books by George Orwell and Roald Dahl. And every now and again, when I reach for those favourite books, an old birthday card will fall out, or a loving note from my husband, or a card from my friend. To me, these things are also great works of art and literature. They are reminders of what it is to be part of the human race, what it means to love and what it means to be alive.

I never remember the emails or texts I receive, they all eventually go in the trashcan of my mind and the cute little icon on my laptop, never to be magically rediscovered. They seem to exist only to be binned.

I am so grateful for my aunt who took time to write letters, within which she will for ever reside. It is a happy reminder that we once were, as a family, complete and happy. I am not sure why we choose to be more perishable and so transient, why we wish to push handwritten letters to a bygone era, perhaps it is just a part of being a disposable society?

Go ahead then, let’s make ourselves more disposable by not documenting the things that matter, by silencing our hearts and hiding the etchings of our souls, let the wind blow them away, never to be caught, because who cares enough to sit and write?

This was previously published by The Guardian.

Kiran Sidhu is a writer, journalist and pop philosopher. Her work has appeared in many places, including The Telegraph, I-News, The Independent, Woman Magazine and Breathe. Find her on Twitter @kiransidhu41

Why Have A Name When You Can Be Known As

the sound of a rainbow forming 

after a warm spring rain 

or the feel of a magenta twilight 

resting upon a dewy rose

Tiffany Shaw-Diaz is a Pushcart Prize and Dwarf Stars Award nominee who also works as a professional visual artist. Her poetry has been featured in Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Bones, NHK World Haiku Masters, The Mainichi, and nearly 100 other publications. Her chapbooks include: says the rose (Yavanika Press 2019), filth (Proletaria 2020), and tyranny of the familiar (Yavanika Press 2020). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter via @tiffanyshawdiaz or through her website: www.tiffanyshawdiaz.com.

Life

I’m sitting here wondering where the time has gone,

Was I going through motions like life’s little pawn. 

Could I have done better or could I have done more, 

Am I living with regret because I didn’t open that door. 

Many hard decisions were made along the way, 

But even the wrong ones let me see another day. 

I’ve learned a lot as time has passed by,

Some things with a smile and some with a cry. 

But all of my choices were mine to be made, 

No one to blame on this game of life that I played. 

Continuing to move forward is all I can do,

Experience and knowledge will get me through.

Holding my head high and confident I will be, 

Letting go of the past will set me free.

I’ll write this last chapter much better than the first, 

It’s peace and happiness is all that I thirst. 

Beginning today I’ll start afresh and anew,

Life is too short to look through rear view. 

Greg Ostrander is 49yrs old and has been a professional poker player since 2004. He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in Vegas in 2012. He was also was a model and Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy. He has been married to his wife Lisa since 07/07/07. They have a 13yr old daughter, Juliana, who was born basically 2 yrs after the miscarriage.  They currently live in Victor, NY.  Follow Greg on Twitter @gspot_17

Save Me A Seat

Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair

I never got a chance to hold you

Or play with your hair

You were taken away from me

Even before birth

But I loved you anyways

For what it is worth

You brought me great joy just knowing you were there

And don’t think for a minute that I didn’t care

I just wanted one look at your beautiful face

But God took you away to a much better place

I’m trying hard now to be really strong

Can’t help feeling that I did something wrong

Realizing that this must be part of His test

I want you to know that I tried my very best

As for right now the answers aren’t complete

But I’ll see you in Heaven

So save me a seat

Greg Ostrander is 49yrs old and has been a professional poker player since 2004. He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in Vegas in 2012. He was also was a model and Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy. He has been married to his wife Lisa since 07/07/07. They have a 13yr old daughter, Juliana, who was born basically 2 yrs after the miscarriage.  They currently live in Victor, NY.  Follow Greg on Twitter @gspot_17

Best Friends

I’m quiet
shy and introverted
I don’t make friends easily

I have just one friend
my best friend
Devin

he has blond curly hair
always smiling
easy going
but somehow questioning

legs splayed
sitting on the sidewalk
outside his house
we talk for hours

about life
about God
about religion
about girls

I’m quiet
but not with Devin

Let’s go to Nathan’s
let’s build a raft

one time he
talked me into
riding my bike
all the way
to Fort Lauderdale

further than
I had ever been
miles and miles

leaving my block
was far for me
leaving my front door
was far

Fort Lauderdale
an adventure
I’ll never forget                                                       

I’ll also never forget
the call
his dad answered the phone

he’s gone
he shot himself

my mind
spinning
I didn’t know
what to say

I never
found out
what happened
I guess that’s strange

I just went back
back to being quiet

no more talks
no bike rides to Fort Lauderdale
no best friend

back
back to my block
back to my front door

Glen Alan Mitchell is a queer artist living in Miami, FL with his husband and four dogs. His poetry has appeared in The Daily Drunk and Tealight Press. Find him at glenalanmitchell.com Find him on Twitter @miamiglen

Two poems by Lindsey Heatherly

Mania

hell, I know I’ve fucked up

a thousand different times

in a million different ways

and that sometimes holding on

is gripping sheets by the fistful

and packing fabric into the hole in your chest

until it reaches your legs, your feet

your arms, your hands

until your body is the escape route for your mind

tell me what thing I did that broke the grace

appointed me at birth

tell me what it was I did so terribly

for this hell to come round

like clockwork, round and round,

a carousel of tricks, ways to die,

ways to try 

to not slip through the cracks

every damn time

“A Mercy of Good Things”

Sometimes I wonder,

when a string of unexpectedly good things

settle onto my lap; I wonder if God has chosen

to give me a life full of goodness to take the place

of an eternity meant only for those who have not denied

their father in heaven. I remember asking my dad,

when I was young, and he was still a preacher,

how so many bad people have such wonderful lives,

and he told me sometimes God provides a mercy

to those whose end will be in the pit of fire, and I’m left

to wonder if I broke the last straw and the good

that is happening in my life is a mercy afforded me

by a god who gave up

Lindsey Heatherly is a Pushcart nominated poet and writer from Upstate South Carolina. She works as a pharmacy technician at a psychiatric facility. Writing is her second love, her daughter being her first. Her work can be found in various online and print journals, such as Pithead Chapel, Emerge Journal, Red Fez, SVJ, Versification, Trampset and others.

Poetry Showcase: Austin Poets’ Union

Woman walking gripping a bottle of Mad Dog

By Angie Dribben

Early afternoon in Idaho’s March, snow 

pressed against curbs against houses

against snowbanks against our backs.

Everywhere paths narrowed.

Some days she stands

on the corner screaming at someone unseen.

Her stabbing finger removes wind from air.

I know someone is there because sometimes

I yell like this too. A strip of pink

in her hair, a streak of hope, necessary. 

How easy it is to slip into faith for a half hour,

long enough to paint your hair pretty,

believe that there will be more.

I know what it is to believe in forever-even-after

a husband gives reason to curl up in a closet,

hold breath until organs fail and it all turns blue,

after the first rape or the last

man who gives no choice

but to leave for nowhere, except a corner

of cold in winter, screams escaping

into winds casting cotton

candy floss onto limbs.

Angie Dribben’s poetry, essays, and reviews can be found or are forthcoming in Cave Wall, EcoTheo, Deep South, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, Cider Press, and others. A Bread Loaf alum, she is an MFA candidate at Randolph College. Everygirl., her first full-length collection is due out 2021 from Main Street Rag. 
@angeladribben
 

Luciferin

By Nick Gaudio

For all the delicate revelations

you can find in this unjust world,

at least one is in the rhythm

a firefly hangs when it exhales

light over a pond’s algae

one late-October night.

Mating is partly a philosophy

a firefly can’t explain on its own:

how light is the medium,

how they need hands

to cast themselves in a jar;

how hands need light

to trim away the dark;

how everything needs each other

to sear a hallowed yellow burn

into so many fateful forms indemnified

by this black forest’s trappings

before everything, too,

becomes trapped.

But finding few, 

can we catch one?

This one to fly.

This one to be captured.

This one to escape hands

only to return as caught

& destined to be caught.

So when I see you’ve caught two, 

and

poked a too-large hole

with a pen in a mason jar’s 

makeshift lid,

it’s not without a subtle reason:

You’ve just imagined yourself

as a captive.

You’ve just imagined yourself

not breathing.

You’ve just imagined your

last breath.

I realize

this is not by chance alone.

It is all merely a part

of the firefly’s brilliant

exit strategy.

Nick Gaudio is a native West Virginian, a Scorpio, an ENFJ, and a Type 1 on the Ennegram. He holds both an MFA from The University of Michigan and the current record for most near-wins in The New Yorker Caption Contest (at 4). Instead of using his MFA to do any sort of good for the world, Nick has worked as an obituary writer, reporter, newspaper editor, professor, and as the head writer for theCHIVE.com

Everything is a Library

By M L Woldman

I’m in the third grade and everything is a library

Mrs. Griswold is a haggard old piece of gristle and she hates everything

I am reading about dinosaurs and Greek mythology

It is summer and I am in school as part of some educational experiment

The dinosaurs

they speak to me

they say

“I too was unwanted in this world

but look how glorious I was.”

Greek mythology 

she speaks to me

she says

“Here is something too magnificent to be believed

Here is something holy

fallen into disrepair.”

And Mrs. Griswold can only scowl in reproach

as I indulge wonders she long ago denied

M L Woldman is a GED graduate with a heart full of fire. Founder of Austin Poets’ Union, poet and playwright. 5th generation Texas.@MLWoldman