Long Way From, Long Time Since features letters written from writers, to writers, living or dead. Send us your queries and inquiries, your best wishes and arguments, and help us explore correspondence as a creative form. For letter submission guidelines, visit cutbankonline.org/submit/web. To submit to our chapbook contest, please see cutbankonline.org/submit/print or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
You wrote that somewhere, sometime, some moment, we all lose our way. I’m bound in the back-and-forth of that, the pendulum, the rebound. The world was unfamiliar, and then it became familiar again. But I’m haunted by what-was, by those moments I woke up an imposter, an interpreter, a stand-in, someone hired to carry off my life.
Last night I dreamed of beings who had bargained with some incarnation of the devil. They could stay in their bodies, their lives, if they killed one human each day. I was alternately one of them and fleeing them. Then I awoke and my clothing was damp and the dark just softening into blue. Then I awoke and beside me the dog. I awoke and beside me my love, the one I had gone away from, and then come back, but somewhere in that interim, the loss of the blush of innocence, the watertight promise of what is shared. Somewhere in that interim doubt crept in.
And how does one come back from doubt, really, Nick—you yourself said these words, said "stunned by how quickly it dissolved" and "afraid of all the things I could transform into." And this is a letter about disorientation, about bewilderment, about how quickly the stones beneath our feet hiss and steam when water is tossed on them, our foundation like a sauna, like lava, heated beyond stability by the pressure and the force of so many mountains moving.
There was a day when the heat seemed to beckon of spring, the figs leafing and budding, the clothes on the line, the hummer feeding at the feeder and everything seemed all promise and the scent of baking bread. But there were these other days, days where it snowed, where icicles hung off the eaves of the buildings, where skiing was the way of an afternoon, where a very different promise began to exist. And what do we do with that one, Nick, why did it come along, such insinuation, such promise, that augur of inconstant days?
I’ve seen you transform things that should not be transformed, things that should be frozen and sinking and I’ve seen you make them light enough to float on the surface of the water, alongside the fishing boats and the wharves and the piers of the harbor. Tell me what is more light than this; tell me what the drift portends—this unfurling broken light, this spectacle. This thing that wanders in us, this schism: tell me what it is that we have lost, or would lose, in the leaving. What husk will burn, will softly jerk away; what dissolution follows. Tell me, Nick, given this dusky film over the world, how does one approximate even the smallest comfort?
I await your words, in a suspended state of wandering—
Nick Flynn is an American writer, poet, and playwright. He is the author of three memoirs, including the acclaimed Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, three books of poetry, and other works. He received the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry in 1999.
Arianne Zwartjes is a poet and lyric essayist living in Leadville, Colorado. Her most recent book is Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy (U of Iowa Press, 2012), a selection from which won the 2011 Gulf Coast Prize for Nonfiction and was a Best American Essays Notable Essay in 2013. Visit her and more of her writing at ariannezwartjes.com.