LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Carl Sandburg

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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.

Dear Carl Sandburg,

I looped and wandered across the continent for twelve months. In the thirteenth, really the last of the year, I live in a single spot again. My childhood home sits seventeen miles from your childhood home, door to door. You’ve left yours, but I’ve returned to mine, for a bit.

Living in one place for more than a few days feels less odd than I thought it might after fifty thousand miles on the road. I swim each morning at the YMCA and then read and write until dinner. Winter means that temperatures dropped fifty degrees overnight but not enough to freeze memories.

Apropos (I never get to use that word) of this letter, I read your long poem, several times now. “Honey and Salt”—

Is there any way to measure love?
Yes but not till long afterward

Not as much time needed as you’d think, Carl. I have to start measuring with a bigger stick and remembering more softly because these forgotten girls suffocate.

Oh, the ghosts eased me back in, sure. The old high school. (Did you ever visit?) The park where Lesley and I played on the swings at sunset. My first vehicle, the pickup where Nevine and I first fogged the windows—hauled off on a flatbed to the junkyard when it died last week, outliving the relationship but not the echo.

As I settle into the familiar specifics of this place, though, memories surge ahead guided by increasing abstraction. A scratched silver car becomes her scratched silver car, with Kailey and I and the tire flat at 4 a.m. miles and years away. A sidewalk becomes the sidewalk of distant city where Alexis sat and I spoke, but not the right words.

Even at the pool, every push off the wall washes into my mind faces I thought I’d left in oblivion and also delivers an underwater view of legs. The morning water walkers. No torsos and nobody younger than seventy. Maybe they have some answers.

Do you still believe, like in that poem, that love endures in the forever-space of oaths between hydrogen and oxygen? I’m drowning over here and searching for my next breath.

Yours in small-town truths,


Dustin Renwick runs, writes, and does not drink coffee. He is a Tupelo Press 30/30 Project alum, and his latest nonfiction book, Beyond the Gray Leaf, is a biography of a forgotten Civil War poet. See more of his work at dustinrenwick.com.