LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: Letter to an Admirer of Whitman

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 print edition, please see cutbankonline.org/submit/print or email cutbankonline@gmail.com.


Dear Philene –

I never did answer the question you asked in New Delhi. You probably forgot about it when we ran from the police station after they tried extorting me for reporting the pick-pocket. But your request has haunted me, “Tell me more about Whitman’s genius.” Volumes have been written about Walt and my letter, sketched on this train to Agra, may not give you what you want to know but I’ll try.

I’d say, he knew how to pause, how to observe, how to synthesize his deft observations into a written micro view for an intuited macro view. To use the description of Wordsworth on what poets do, “write strong feelings recollected in tranquility.”

This required a piece of his soul, less dramatically, a primary ability to feel something. My professor once said that most of his counseling clients fell asleep telling their own story. They couldn’t feel anything about their own lives, let alone anyone or anything else.

I mourn that inability in an emotionally blunted American culture. Perhaps it’s different in Holland. Empathy and the ability to feel is important not just for a poet, but for a person. I read that some communication scholars believe empathy is the most important communication skill.

Empathy is the ability to feel my experience first and then feel what others feel. Whitman had that ability, along with powers of emotional recall and disclosure. He was moved to strong words not just when looking at a stack of arms and legs in a Civil War battlefield hospital, but during all encounters.

Yet if empathy was the only skill, anyone could write like Whitman. It also takes linguistic gifts to the degree that a writer can create something memorable: or in the words of David Tracy, writing in The Analogical Imagination, a classic. Tracy wrote that a classic speaks to all generations. Walt did.

I think he was a writer conscious of his legacy. In “Poets to Come,” he reaches out to people like you and me, writers haunted by wind and air and water and everything. “I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,/ I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness/ I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping,/ turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face.”

But he’s coy, for he never just sauntered along, casually looking. He stops, looks deeply and feels profoundly. Many writers can stop, some can look, but not all feel with a full and gutty primal empathy.

Looking down the road, he bows to the future in the poem you liked, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” when he imagines you and I peering down to the Brooklyn River, seeing the shadows cast by our hair upon the tide flow. His writing of time and tide captured the flow of history, and that is why we still read him, it is why his work is classic.

Raising the bar of his observations, Walt grasped intellectual/philosophical/mythological history and their role in the development of our human story. This is something offered by all great artists and all works of magnum status. Here’s a teaspoon from a large volume, “Song of Myself.”

Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah and laying them away

Lithographing Kronos and Zeus his son, and Hercules his grandson

Buying drafts of Osiris and Iris and Belus and Brahma and Adonai

In my portfolio placing Manitou loose and Allah on a leaf and the crucifix engraved

With Odin, and the hideous-faced Mexitil, and all idols and images

He did not lazily pause, his curiosity and ambition far too strong: “I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen.” Listening is no small feat, for true listening it is an active investment in the now.

I’m reminded of Rilke, in his poem, “The Panther.” He watched the caged, pacing animal for weeks and then wrote the poem. Neither was Walt content until his contentedness was grounded in the pause, the listening body, peering from under droopy eyelids. How is this for stop, listen, look and learn: “I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals…they are so placid and self-contained, / I stand and LOOK at them sometimes half the day long.”

His linguistic skill, observational prowess and patience, empathy, intellectual maturity, breadth of synthesis, and emotional recall combined with a fierce appreciation and love for the world… that’s genius.

An American poet, Louis Simpson, once wrote that poets should, “Have a stomach that can digest/ Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems./ Like the shark, it contains a shoe./ It must swim for miles through the desert/ Uttering cries that are almost human.”

Even by that toothy measure, I’d say Walt qualified. His telltale cry was a barbaric yawp, formed out of a comprehensive vision of and full bodied response to the total human and cosmic experience.

I suspect if anyone had sliced open the belly of Mr. Whitman, they would have found all manner of dark and light treasures, fragments of notebooks and an attending grief from bedrooms and battlefields.

As for your question about poets that stand on his shoulders, I like Maya Angelou and Carl Sandburg. Angelou anchors history in the present like no one I’ve known, except perhaps Anna Ahkmatova. Angelou’s poem on the inauguration of President Bill Clinton stuns me in its perfection.

And Sandburg, writing deeply of Abraham Lincoln, celebrated the pure physical labor of man and woman. I name it, Sandburgian Socialism and Midwestern Storycism, a sculpting of broad-shouldered and redemptive myth from hard materials. Sandburg stands squarely in the Chicago tradition of loving critic, his heart broken by city and country.

There’s more Philene, but my train is stopping and I’m off to see the Taj Mahal. I’ll write more about Mr. Whitman, but in the meantime, take a good bite of what’s in front of you, and keep writing.



Gregory Ormson earned an M.A. in English from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. He’s worked as a journalist, business writer, and sports writer. His work has been published in Quarterly West, The Trinity Seminary Review, The Seventh Quarry (Wales), Elephant Journal, The Yoga Blog, Horizons and Entrée.’ He won a 13-word tweet contest sponsored by The Indiana Review. He lives in Hawaii where he does yoga, rides his Harley-Davidson, and writes.

LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: To Hugo from Cowdry; Big Timber

Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo

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. Visit our online submissions page for details.

Letter to Hugo from Cowdry

by George Kalamaras

Okay, Dick, I’m obsessed. John told me don’t
start a poem but with an image stunning
disease. I’m going for conversation.
The way you dreamed. Each Montana town,
a porridge of origin left burning
the stove. We’re driving through Cowdry—Mary Ann
and Bootsie and me—as if all twelve houses
were lanterns in the thatch. Only Grizzly Liquors
and the post office have a name. There’s a photo
of a hanged man in an Ogallala motel
I’d rather forget. My modification is mixed, fixed
as it is on always wanting things both ways
at once. You’re alive, Dick, but dead. There
is aching in my friend, Andy, and it is gone.
And Muncie, Indiana, will never be dropped, doe-heavy,
during deer season. Red Cloud’s War was the only one
Native Peoples ever won against the troops.
And all the sandhill cranes lay eggs that contain
not the bloody Bozeman Trail but linguistic salve that hurts.

Okay, I’m obsessed with saying things Dick.
Commas transparent, my modification keeps incubating
me. Making me Kalispell. Making me
Missoula. Give me liberty or give me
depth. Allow the sound of my said-wrongs
to give girth to all thinning. Air
is air in Cowdry, the old-timer leaned
into his own face. A morning shave
is a way to get things close. Enough,
I might scream, about donkeys and plows
pressuring the prairie. The plains extend beyond
Cowdry as if a dead Colorado town can no longer kill
the scent of manure long in rain.

Let me put it this way: if a honey badger
bled broken plates of moon I’d know each den
from Steamboat Springs to Laramie, the cows
of Cowdry dropping milk that won’t flow. This town
is so small Wikipedia won’t give
the precise number of milking pails
or population. Sanity measured in zip codes
and whiskey. And 80434 is not the number
of bottles on the shelf but words of hurt
families of love speak in winter

                   Okay, John told me don’t.
Never begin a poem I could not die.
The poem starts here, he might say. My verbs
nixed. My nouns pronounced as this loud
and that. Mountain curve and perpetual plain. Colorado
and cloudy conversation. I’m going for Dick.
The spaces you fell. Places you tendered
and toughed into tongue. Real or imagined,
I saw the fox five times in a week.
He was crossing the road in Cowdry. She was crossing
the road out as a safe place to den. Home is where
the start is—a word in a poem, a disease
that heals. The tonguing thrush of so much
wingèd bleed decomposing corpse to corpse
in the large intestine of a turkey buzzard
nailed to the hollow of a trunk. All things are possibly
driving through Cowdry, through the center
of what’s gone. Absence makes the heart
grow fodder. Divine provender
to intercede. What’s gone is the idea
that a word spoken just so might finally make it
right. I was crossing she was crossing it was
word-spur and blur. Noun the verb. Mine
the shaft, Dick. North Park. Woods Landing.
West Laramie. I bring Cowdry
to you to disrupt the bear-tear of words.
To say you’re not alone on the drive
from this ache to that. To dispel
the loud of lonely lovely in your gut.


What Thou Lovest Well. Letter to Hugo from Big Timber

by George Kalamaras

Once more, I’m tasting the animal.
What Thou Lovest Well Remains Dead.
Actually, you said American, Dick,
not Dead, but America and death mostly agree.
I’ve been to places you tried to keep,
even as you gave yourself away.
The Afghani cameleer bags on the walls
of the only coffeehouse in a grain
and railroad town like Livingston.
Why, afterwards, were all the train cars
suddenly Bactrian in their rumbling back-ache
strain? I said copper. I said coal. I said
the Big Timber sheep ranch I lived
on never lost its stench of damp wool.
Even when sold and converted to cabins.
You try losing your Indiana hound-dog
roots in the snowfields of the Crazies
and see if you, too, will beg
to be shot at the wall, the glare
of the glaciers making you inane.

Wait. You did lose your Seattle roots—that house
on West Marginal Way—though searched them out
in the yeasty grain of lives fermenting
on barstools. Your fellow Montana drunks. How many
would lose a lung, if they looked ahead years
beyond the painting of that bloody elk
bellowing the wood above the bar,
like you? Any picture on the shelf
above the booze might mean hope, 
even if that hope was learning how to die
just right. You felt marginal because a street
named you, just in the way it kept you as a child
from the world? I can’t say I’m whole. So much
of me keeps flaking off into coy dog
scat and their yoating down the draw.
My neighbor is once again practicing skeet,
and it’s me that flies out, a clay pigeon,
bulls-eye wide, each time I hear the command to pull.

Honestly, Dick. I tasted the animal
as it dropped to its knee. My grandfather from Greece
loved bullfights because things won and lost
on t.v. each Saturday night, live from Mexico City.
And stakes were high, driven into the poor beast’s
neck. I tasted the animal in the garter snake
I killed with a hoe. I will never forget
the tiny eggs at seven and vowing my life.
Tasted my father’s downward glance
during Sunday visitation when, in 1959,
divorce meant a forehead scored by a year of ash,
as if we got glanders from the nose cavity
of a horse’s infected breath. Tasted it
in my first woman’s trembling
I cried to touch, touching myself in her
joy-clenched face.

                           Things get abstract fast.
You urged we risk the sentimental.
I can only eat so much damp wool
before the bleating shears
me. There is life and there is life.
I’ve said so little of Big Timber
I’m a brute. I see you in Red Lodge,
in Dillon, in Butte, among the copper mothers
of the world. So many sons have given
over to the mines. So many lungs,
like yours, opting out of difficult breathing
ways. I found a wounded rattler on the gravel
four weeks back and could not take the car
back over it to complete the kill.
It seemed to beg. Maybe we’re all dying a little,
pleading out our red-quick tongue for the tires
to make it right? I tasted the animal
in the way I love even you, even
after years our bodies never met.
Our animal selves left on a shelf to bellow
above bottles of whiskey about to break
a life. Or a shelf of books
we write and few if any ever read.
What Thou Lovest Well Remains Dead, Dick.
Whatever we love, whatever we fear,
we somehow kill and must love well.

George Kalamaras
George Kalamaras

George Kalamaras, Poet Laureate of Indiana, lived many years in Colorado. He is the author of seven full-length books of poetry and seven chapbooks, including The Mining Camps of the Mouth, winner of the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook award (2012), Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series (2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990. 

Read George Kalamaras's other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your ow

LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: To Thomas Merton from Gonzalinho da Costa

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 print edition, please see cutbankonline.org/submit/print.


I read your Seven Storey Mountain, noting your allusion to Dante.
You told us the story of your very gradual epiphany and conversion.
Your journey, as you describe it, began at Prades, France, born

To a sober American mother and an ebullient New Zealand father.
Painfully, you remembered your early years of spiritual alienation,
Punctuated by a delicate sorrow at your parents’ passing away.

Deceived by the false freedom of young adulthood, you lived
For a time as a wastrel, harrowing the hell of profligacy and desolation.
Yet all was not lost, drawn as you were to spiritual messages

Hidden in monastery ruins, timely theology, and sundry grace.
Of all things, a biography of Hopkins the poet played the tipping point.
Baptized to your joy, you matured in your desire to become a priest.

The Franciscans rejected you—no doubt, a good dose of humility
Softening you to discern the “True North” of your Trappist vocation.
Purified, you finally arrived, stumbling, atop Mount Purgatory.

Having washed in the waters of Lethe and drunk your fill of Eunoe,
You tarried, a new creature singing psalms, waxing ecstatic.
Then off you went again, ascending fitfully past the spheres.

The wisdom of the sun in the fourth sphere drew you constantly,
Tugging as low tide at the denizens beached in your intellect.
Habitually, you retreated to the seventh sphere of Saturn,

Peering in contemplation at your soul reflected in a glass, darkly.
Dropping by Mars to take up the pen for justice, you instigated
The question of whether contemplation is in deep truth action.

Delirious, you even dallied for a space on the inconstant moon.
This favor I now ask is within your power as Beatrice to grant:
Accompany me as a guide to the Empyrean vision of Paradiso.



Gonzalinho da Costa is the pen name of Joseph I. B. Gonzales, Ph.D. He teaches Methods of Research in Management, and Managerial Statistics at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, Makati City, Philippines. He is a management research and communication consultant, and Managing Director of Technikos Consulting, Inc. A lover of world literature, he has completed three humanities degrees and writes poetry as a hobby. He has published about 80 industry and academic articles and books, most of them as the sole author.



LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: To Alexander Pushkin from Brooklyn


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 print edition, please see cutbankonline.org/submit/print.


Aleksander Sergeyevich:

This is going to sound crazy, but I’m writing this in order to make 100% sure that you are dead.

Are you?

You don’t have to tell me, like, personally. Maybe just publish a new poem. Or turn up as a reality TV contestant. Or let yourself be photographed on the Bronze Horseman statue in St. Petersburg. Things are pretty crazy in your old country right now. (Or maybe you’re alive and you already know that.) I think it might help if you turned up, even just for a minute. Just long enough for someone to film a Vine.

Here’s why I’m suspicious: you don’t seem dead. When I lived in St. Petersburg for a summer in 2009, I visited your apartment. Granted, the fact that they let me into your house—along with anyone else with 40 rubles to spare—is a pretty red flag that you’re not around to complain about it. But the whole place looked like you’d just stepped out to run an errand. Papers shuffled on your desk. Books with broken spines. A letter-opener you’d been chewing on as you read, still showing the bite-marks. Your blood still on the couch. Okay, so blood doesn’t look good, either, but you’re supposed to have been dead for 177 years. Am I crazy for thinking that couch-blood might be fresher than that? (Are you okay, wherever you are? Are you hurt?)

I’m looking for you because--well, I don’t really know why. I’m looking for you to figure out why I’m looking for you. What I know for sure is that you’ve affected my life a lot more than most dead people. Certainly more than most dead people I don’t even know that well. You’re not my ancestor or my muse or my hero. Twenty-nine is a few too many duels for me to understand. (How much validation of your honor did you need?) Truth be told, I don’t even “get” poetry. So your hold over me doesn’t make sense.

One time at a party in grad school—the kind of party where this joke would play big, where people were already tipsily debating the differences between illuminated manuscripts—I dismissed you as only my second favorite duel-losing Alexander, after Hamilton. Ha ha ha! Get it? Oh, it killed.

I do love Alexander Hamilton, actually. That wasn’t just a (hilarious) joke. But my love for him isn’t mysterious. I live in the country he helped build. I went to the college he founded. I feel a (mostly unearned) kinship of ideals and background with him. And I love him the way you’re supposed to love a dead cultural icon. I read doorstop biographies and spout anecdotes from them to polite, long-suffering friends. (Did you know that Ben Franklin taught Hamilton’s wife to play Backgammon? You’re welcome!) I occasionally visit his grave—but only because I live 20 minutes away by subway. Every year I mean to throw a party for his birthday and then forget. And that’s how you’re supposed to pay tribute your historical dead.

At least, it is for Americans. But Russia is different. Or you’re different. Or I’m different with you.

The first time I ever heard your name was in the first of my Russian Studies major’s required language classes. (Yes, at Hamilton College.) My new professor mentioned you and stopped mid-sentence to make the class—ten of us, each fiddling with a first-day nametag on which we’d clumsily copied our name in Cyrillic without understanding the letters, like ABBA singing in English—stand up while he slowly emphasized your full name. Aleksander Sergeyevich Pushkin. He beamed at us for a moment, reverent. Then he let us sit down and finished his sentence.

At the time, I thought it was just him. A particularly big fan. But then you were everywhere. You turned up in every class, every semester, for four years—literature, history, language, folklore, politics. You had written a poem; you had inspired an opera; you had caused Nabokov to throw a fit; you had married a beautiful woman; you had died in an affair of honor (yours and hers); you had cemented Peter the Great’s legacy; you had borrowed from ancient themes of birds and magic circles. I was never asked again to stand for your name—but I always got the impression that if I had, my professors would have understood.

Is it just me, or is this a doubly impressive ubiquity for a poet to have achieved? People don’t really go into poetry for fame and fortune anymore. How did you do it? How did you hook us all?

This happens all over. My girlfriend took an introductory Russian language class at her college, too, and guess what it was called: “Russian Through Pushkin I.” How about that! After just a few classes spent learning the alphabet and verb declension, they jumped straight into translating The Bronze Horseman. Now she knows how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “There, by the billows desolate, He stood, with mighty thoughts elate, and gazed, but in the distance only a sorry skiff on the broad space of Neva drifted seaward, lonely.

I didn’t encounter the poem until later in my study of the language, but when I did, I had to memorize the prologue. I remember reciting it in the language lab, filming myself on iMovie, staring at the bottom of the monitor in concentration. The moss-grown miry banks with rare hovels were dotted here and there where wretched Finns for shelter crowded; the murmuring woodlands had no share of sunshine, all in mist beshrouded. “You look so sad!” my professor said, reviewing the footage. “Cheer up! You’re young and alive and there is Pushkin!”

It’s a beautiful poem, of course. You know that, don’t you? You know you’re brilliant. You make me wish I understood poetry. You make me wish I understood Russian.

In the years since that summer I spent in St. Petersburg and since graduating from college, I’ve plummeted from semi-fluency in Russian to barely remembering a few disassociated words and phrases. I hate this fact. But I still know, with a kind of linguistic muscle memory, the entire prologue to The Bronze Horseman. And when I want to feel like there’s hope for me yet, that maybe I’ll crack open those old books and be bilingual after all, be the person I wanted to be when I was eighteen and chose my major—in those moments, I close my eyes and recite your poem. Here cutso nature gives commandyour window through on Europe; stand firm-footed by the sea unchanging! Like a promise; like a prayer; like ABBA singing “Dancing Queen.”

But before all this backsliding, I was in your city for a summer, and in your house, and in the restaurant you ate in on the morning of your death.

I took a Saturday and didn’t tell anyone where I was going while I retraced the steps of your last day. I don’t know why I was so secretive about it. When I go to Alexander Hamilton’s grave I tell everyone; I invite people along. I think I just didn’t know what I was doing with you. I couldn’t—I can’t—explain why I wanted to go and see where you had your last cup of coffee, see where you were shot. So I snuck off to do it. Is that weird?

Probably. I made a lot of weird decisions that summer. Some of it was culture shock, but only some. I was nineteen when I got to St. Petersburg and I had never lived in a City before. I had never ridden a bus that didn’t stop at the end of my driveway and take me straight to school. I had almost never had alcohol before, either, and it was legal for me to buy it there. I spent a lot of that summer drinking canned gin & tonics (with grapefruit flavoring added) in parks, and worrying that I was spending too much money (I wasn’t), and worrying that I wasn’t writing enough (I wasn’t), and doing mental acrobatics to convince myself that I was happy being with my college boyfriend and only felt the way I did about our relationship because I missed him. I learned a lot of Russian and also a lot about public transportation.. I translated one of your stories for class. I toured gorgeous art and architecture. I saw statues of you everywhere. I developed a crush on one of my fellow ex-pat sutdents. He posed with another girl, the two of them lounging on the huge stone statue of a book of your poetry by the Neva. I took their picture. It’s blurry—you can see the chiseled words, but not that they’re yours.

In two months, I wrote two sentences. Did you ever have writer’s block? I don’t know why, but I think probably not.

So while I was being unproductive and confused and figuring things out far from home, after seeing your seemingly freshly-vacated apartment and its bloody couch, I decided it was important to understand what happened to you. So I followed you to your death.

I paid too much for a coffee with milk at the cafe you ate in before your duel. (I messed up the order the first time, and shame at the waiter’s mocking smile made my cheeks burn the whole time I was there. Coming and going, I walked past the stairs you had used to come and go. They were under plexiglass. “By these steps, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin...” the plaque began.

I saw you, in the cafe. I jumped. But you know where this is going, you’re laughing at me already--it was the wax statue of you, the one they’ve set up sitting by the window. You were—it was—staring into the middle distance, ignoring us all..

The thing is, I kept seeing you after I left the cafe. Walking the streets, I imagined you walking them. (Or did I really see you? Were you there? Do you remember me?) You were on your way to shoot--you thought, perhaps--a frenchman for wooing your wife. It would be your twenty-ninth duel. I started to daydream about saving you. I ‘d grab your arm and muscle you into a bookstore. I’d jump escalators in the metro and hang from your lapels. “You don’t have to do this,” I’d say. Ne nado, ne nado. But even in my fantasies, I worried you wouldn’t understand my accent.

You received your fatal wound—maybe—outside of town, across a set of train tracks, in a park with an obelisk on the spot where you fell. None of that was there then, of course. But it is now, and crossing the tracks reminded me of Stand By Me in a way that made me feel younger and in more danger and most of all more American than ever. There were two little boys hitting each other with sticks in the park. And there were locals, suspicious locals, staring in bald judgment as I lurked around the sacred spot, camera in hand. I was ashamed, again, of being the outsider I was--too immature and overwhelmed to write or speak.

Distracted by embarrassment, I lost the thread of you. I stopped seeing you. I guess it should have been a relief, like snapping out of something crazy, but I was disappointed. I felt like I’d finally been on to something.

My professor had said that I was young and alive and there was Pushkin. It suddenly seemed like none of those things could be true unless they all were.

I kept looking all day, zoning out all across the city. I must have looked like your wax dummy. And I felt like I was looking for you not as a timid tourist on a bookish pilgrimage but as a PI might search for a client on the lam. I’d barely hung my shingle when I got my first case--this dame blew into my office in a dress she’d been poured into and a pillbox hat. “The name’s Mother Russia,” she said, holding back tears, “and I think something terrible has happened.” You’d survived twenty-eight other duels; why should this one have killed you? I took the case.

I guess I’m still looking for you. A lot has changed since I tried to hunt you down in St. Petersburg. It’s been five years and I’ve figured out a lot about myself and my writing. I chose my other duel-losing Alexander, I guess, and moved to Brooklyn where I can be close to him. But I still think about you all the time. I still recite your words whenever I need to feel like it’s still possible for me to change and grow, like I’m not cemented yet. And I still wish I’d found you that summer, assuming you were really what I was looking for.

I guess I just realized that in all this process of flailing in the dark--standing on command, incanting verses whose meaning I’ve forgotten, stalking your ghost—I never tried just asking you where you are. Maybe you’re not even hiding. Maybe you just don’t know anyone’s looking for you.

So. I’d appreciate it if you’d show yourself. Until then, I’ll just keep up my phonetic hoping. Ay, ships of every flag shall come by waters they had never swum, and we shall revel, freely ranging.

Let’s hang out sometime. I’m young and alive and there is you.


Olivia Wolfgang-Smith


Olivia Wolfgang-Smith earned her MFA in Fiction from Florida State University. Her work has been longlisted for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and published in Necessary Fiction, The Common, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. She is the Social Media Editor of The Common. She lives in New York and is originally from Rhode Island.