Call and Response: Dana Gioia’s Poem, “The Letter”

Call: The Letter
by Dana Gioia

And in the end, all that is really left
Is a feeling—strong and unavoidable—
That somehow we deserved something better.
That somewhere along the line things
Got fouled up. And that letter from whoever’s
In charge, which certainly would have set
Everything straight between us and the world,
Never reached us. Got lost somewhere.
Possibly mislaid in some provincial station.
Or sent by mistake to an old address
Whose new tenant put it on her dresser
With the curlers and the hairspray forgetting
To give it to the landlord to forward.
And we still wait like children who have sent
Two weeks’ allowance far away
To answer an enticing advertisement
From a crumbling, yellow magazine,
Watching through years as long as a childhood summer,
Checking the postbox with impatient faith
Even on days when mail is never brought.

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Response: The Letter
by Jena Strong

No, Dana. In the end,
we will have received
every letter, opened some
neatly, along the crease
of the envelope, using
the letter opener we found
that time at the five and dime
when we were little kids
with coins in our lint-lined
pockets, that somehow
we kept through all the loves
and all the moves,
all the well days
and all the hand-wringing
goodbye moments,
tucked away and taken out
to open letters announcing:
I love you, you are loved.

Others, we will have been
not so careful with,
tearing them open
with overeager hands
or our front teeth
like rabid animals,
hungry not for news
but for something to chew on
and digest, to fuel us through
one hard winter after another.

Yes, we sent messages out
to the world, in bottles,
in songs, in pleas
and prayers, in exultation
and in desperation, asking
for so much and stopping
one day and then another,
no longer wondering
if we deserved answers,
deserved return receipt,
deserved reciprocity.

We deserved it,
deserved it all in the end,
got what our starving
hearts feared wouldn’t come.
We arrived, at the end, here,
to this place
where open and honest learned
to lie together, lion and lamb,
storm and stasis,
breath and gifts from an abyss
of longing unwrapped,
a party in our mouths
of words and of kisses
and of running
to the mailbox after work
to lift the lid
from the tin mailbox–
It came! It came! Mama!

All things in good time
and all good things in time
after so long waiting, Dana.
This, I believe. This, I refuse
to give up for another minute,
not wasting a single morsel
of the mail, the inbox–
the sender and the receiver,
the writer and the reader
are one, and the same.

4 thoughts on “Call and Response: Dana Gioia’s Poem, “The Letter”

  1. mishedup says:

    I loved this so much. I wanted to tell you I used it in a blog post I wrote, here’s the link if you’d like to see it…the title of my post was Call and Response and I had actually started the post prior to finding the poem. meant to be…just beautiful.
    https://mishiam.wordpress.com

    Like

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