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Opening the Box of Surprise

By Kelly DuMar

PROMPT — What is Love?

About my new poetry collection: jinx and heavenly calling, and how I poached a portion of my mother’s love letters to my father, 1953-1954


I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against The want of you; Of squeezing it into little inkdrops, And posting it. . .


~ Excerpt from “The Letter,” by Amy Lowell

It was a gift I had no expectation of receiving—this box of surprise that came into my hands a few years ago. A lost treasure I had no idea existed in the world. Inside: All the letters, handwritten, that my mother had sent to my father during their courtship, from 1953-1954, starting with their first date and ending soon after they married.


My mother had not been alive for a number of years when the box surfaced from my brother’s basement. Where did they come from, out of the blue? Who had given the box to him? One of our aunts? He couldn’t remember. He’d never read our mother’s letters. He hadn’t realized what treasure was to be discovered. My father was the favorite child of his mother, Flora. It seems she saved every letter he ever wrote to her (we have that box, as well), and, apparently, she made sure her son’s love letters from my mother were saved as well.


Some of the letters were loose—many of them still had their envelopes with canceled stamps so that I could see the exact date the letter passed through the post office. Awestruck by this gold mine, I immediately began reading. First, I did my best to put the letters in order by date or by weather suggesting a season, or mention of a holiday. Touching the stiff paper she wrote on with my fingers—moving my fingers over ink from her pen—was a delicious tactile and emotional experience.


My mother had lovely hand writing, and I easily recognized it as belonging to her and her alone. But who was she? This young woman falling in love with the man who would become my father, years before I was born? This woman who wrote, playfully, to the man who fathered me, “You’re just too much for me, I guess,” after spending a weekend partying with him in Cambridge.


As a daughter who knows the end of the story—a marriage that endured just over fifty years—I was fascinated to have such a direct encounter with the origin story of their relationship, because, of course, it’s my origin story too. Without the exchange of their letters (while she was working in their hometown of Athol, MA, as a records librarian, and he was a student in Harvard Business School), I would never have been born.


And, as a daughter, I was personally fascinated and often surprised by the emotional narrative of their courtship—its ordinary extraordinariness. As a poet, I was intrigued by the universal story of what Amy Lowell calls, the want of you, in her poem, “The Letter.” The letters document falling in love in a long-distance relationship, and all the risk, beauty and catastrophe of this archetypal journey. Following in the footsteps of the poet Mary Reufle’s work in erasure, I decided to erase the letters and create poetic experiences of each letter, which is presented on a palimpsest, or background, of some visual aspect of the original letter. My publisher, Eileen Cleary, has dubbed them “epistolary erasures,” and they are collected in my newly published book, jinx and heavenly calling––I poached a portion of my mother’s love letters to my father, 1953-1954.


Above is an example of one of my erasures, “Spree,” which was from a multi-page letter.


I’m excited to be the featured author at the March 30, 2023 Journal of Expressive Writing Open Mic where I will read from jinx and heavenly calling, and be interviewed by my publisher at Lily Poetry Review Books, Eileen Cleary, from 7-8:30 p.m., followed by an open mic of 15 readers. I hope you will join us. You can register here for the free online event. And you can purchase jinx and heavenly calling at all major book outlets, and through Lily poetry Review Books here.


 

Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from Boston. She’s author of four poetry chapbooks, including jinx and heavenly calling, published by Lily Poetry Review Books in March 2023. Kelly’s poems and photos are published in a variety of literary journals. She teaches creative writing and runs Play Labs for the International Women’s Writing Guild and the Transformative Language Arts Network. Kelly produces the Featured Open Mic for the Journal of Expressive Writing. Reach her at kellydumar.com

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