Outdated: The poem

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010

An old, old, old, old, old (key word is old here), old flame of mine from my freshman year of high school recently sent me this poem:

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Like the first night of winter's magical start

You have delicately alighted upon my weary life.

A few gentle, courteous flakes

Lingering momentarily...then

Melting under their own loving warmth,

Leaving a visual aftertaste...

Blissful remembrances

Of a passion - once forgotten -

Which might now only return as

Cotton quilted snowflakes

But will always threaten,

With frosted breath,

An impending blizzard.

-The Finnish -

This is actually a poem I wrote for her back in the days of two-week letter deliveries, and it almost wasn't postmarked as the price of stamps had just jumped from eight cents to a dime.

"A dime?!" I exclaimed. "Was she worth a dime?"

Ahhhhh ... her love was worth any price. I tucked the letter secretly into my library book, whose return demanded a hike past the post office. Discretely under the noses of my male friends, history was made and the parchment returned these many years later. She also sent the original letter that so eloquently announced the poem's creator, the weariness I felt from being so many "blue canoe" miles and island hops away, and the pronouncement that our Vikings would kick her Wolves heartily on the hardwood courts at tournament time.

I remember the agonizing wait from the time my hand cramped in the last paragraph I had written to the arrival of her response, how nearly four weeks of wondering if she smiled, teared, laughed or whatever, had me running the emotional gauntlet.

Those were special communication times. We now think that the Internet, e-mail, Skype, "wastebook" and texting have brought us closer. Yet, is it so? While our horizons have expanded with ease, our emotional detachment has also grown.

Gone are those days of snaking the phone cord of the one family phone through the kitchen, around the sleeping dog, past the bothersome sibling, over the reclining father figure, all the while dodging the flour rolling pin of complaints from the phone bill-paying mother. After finally arriving 20 yards away in a little enclosure of personal space, the rapid "beep, beep, beep" of the busy signal, a sound matching your heart's anticipation as you redial again and again until the cord is tugged from your dying fingers, or a broom stick taps the ceiling from below.

There was passion in those moments - sincere passion that was pondered day after day when the three-mile walk to the post office produced an empty glimpse back into the confines of mail heaven. "Perhaps the letter was back there," one would ponder, bending down to peer through the tiny open door whose three numbers had been in your family since birth. "Perhaps the letter is resting on that little pile, or in that bag, or ..."

I remember getting a letter then and grousing about it coming so slow.

"Two weeks!" my father exclaimed. "It is amazing how fast letters come these days."

My father had his heart broken once. I never knew until the day I sobbed tears of rejection from this same girl who now has sent evidence of my past love back to me.

"It hurts," he said. "I loved a nurse in Seattle once."

That was all he said. I found out that he would wait three months for her letters, and she three for his. The steam ships were few and far between to the fox-farming islands and new settlements of Alaska. When the ship docked that carried no letter, my father went to Seattle - arriving four months later. He and his nurse met, and talked, and he met her fiancé, and they were friends through the days of their lives.

Recently, a friend - whose wedding I photographed atop a glacier 13 years ago - sent his wife an e-mail from a foreign country. The glacier long ago disappeared in a freak act of nature, but the couple found other glaciers and other acts of nature and, evidently, by the cold, white inbox message asking for a divorce, other people to love.

I feel cold when I type. I can write the same message on my computer screen and feel nothing, but when I enclose a pencil or a pen in my fingers and press down upon the shreds of processed trees, erase, scratch out, smudge, spill liquids, stain and otherwise leave particles of my whole life at the moment in sentence and paragraph and page, I am alive. I am human and I feel like a freshman with awkward hair, nervously walking in Southeast rain toward a building that may or may not let me open the door to a tiny, metal box, the act of which could reveal a poem.

When my freshman crush sent me back my poem, she also included a hand-written message:

"After re-reading your lovely letters I felt they deserved a nice, handwritten reply. There seems to be something lost in e-mail after reading those. I think that is why I always kept every letter. They seemed so personal. So much time and effort went into them, it always seemed a shame to throw them away."

I couldn't agree more.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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