To Arline Feynman, October 17, 1946
I adore you, sweetheart … It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing. But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and what I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector.
Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures. When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried.
Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want to stand there.
I’ll bet that you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls … and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.
My darling wife, I do adore you. I love my wife. My wife is dead,
PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address."
I could lose my voice to you
in a crushing heartbeat
on a stale hospital bed with plastic veins
trembling inside those parts of me
that you would once sink into to try and find an unresolved part of yourself.
In a flurry of pale words I might sound like a prayer
being led to the end of the world’s last bible
only to find that those final few pages were missing
and that God was just a quiet bit of white space
sitting with everything that’s ever been said
and everything that’s ever been lost.
My fading eyes might resemble those unplugged stars
that would once nourish your world with a light
I would kindle from the beams of an old love
the same light that once upon a youth came between our kisses
the kind that the moon would try to get between
so as to place itself inside a moment of tenderness
for it knows somehow that the battle against its stony night is infinite.
We created a family of memories you and I
the incubating sheets of each year
joining to form a calendar filled with Andrew’s first steps
and Stella’s first dance, those baby words that must feel like
the voice of one dead coming back to touch the heart of his beloved for the last time
are complete islands that persuade that moment when the soul abandons itself in a burning cathedral to rise up and breathe again the cool sun of life.
Close yourself to this deflated loaf
and just feel my words because my mouth has been defeated of its only use
and my body has at last forgotten itself,
the strength it once lifted
the miles it so easily trampled on have now all surrounded me in a reckless grope
fragility is a confine that I pray you never know,
it’s an open cell free of its lock
it’s an imagination being held hostage by a broken wheelchair
its watching everything grow wild whilst you’re forced to shrink further into yourself
but love, love is an indefatigable celebration
the only hand that can never fold because right now
in this hospital room, amongst these hanging wires and this air that tortures my heavy lungs
love is the only medicine I have
so come close
and put your hands inside mine so I can hold again the long fingers of tomorrow
my skin runs ashamed by the breath the keeps all this poison for itself
so take from me all the words you’ll need to write the poem that if death is to style my little future
I know will follow.
I could lose my voice to you
if you could somehow lose your death to me
let me take you from that room where unconvinced flowers bow in their vase
as if they too had peered into my heart and become stricken by its long lament
and in return you could take from me this voice, these words and this gift
that now sound like a promise losing faith in its deepest conviction
but if I had known that your last few words would have sounded like they did
and your body would have convulsed and stiffened as white coats came rushing past me
then maybe I could have thought of something more beautiful to say
maybe I could have read you the poem I was writing whilst you slept under a stuttering beep that allowed life to meet you through a thinning tube and maybe,
just maybe we could have shared that last bit of white space together
all I could do was drown in the storm you gave my eyes
throwing myself into the arms of a doctor who repeated the word brave
without even looking at me
and gave me a card with a number I should call
if things ever got too much.
Your room is clean now my love
no more machines, no more encouraging smiles, no more waiting flowers
by tomorrow no doubt there will be another loved one fighting her last battle against the precious air
and there will be more husbands, more sons and more daughters who’ll write poems under a stuttering beep because they don’t know any other way of coming to terms with the tragedy of life’s final act
I just hope that they reach the end in peace
because you were the poem I couldn’t save
and this was the voice I couldn’t lose
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die."
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
By Mary Elizabeth Frye.