I used to think the opposite of a dead letter was a balloon
borne on some mixture of helium and weather. That was
before everyone knew better—before whole whales died,
our tiny blimps in their bellies; before we’d seen pictures
of gulls’ ankles tangled in ribbons. Back then teachers
still put kids up to releasing balloons; each carried a coil
of paper with the elementary’s address under the words
If found, please write.
The thing about a dead letter
is there’s no sending it on and no sending it back;
it’s a thing without destination or destiny, whereas
the aimlessness of a balloon is an embarrassment
Then my brother died, and ritually we
who lived stood behind the house on the anniversary,
tiny ballasts of words attached to ellipsoids. I ransomed
mine with a small toss, as I would a reluctant dove.
Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, Threepenny Review, HAD, and Ploughshares, as well as other journals and magazines.
© Variant Literature Inc 2023