A Box of Old Letters


Found in the attic after I bought the place,
the address on the fronts always the same.
But the postmarks an atlas heading west,
always west down the Ohio to Cairo
then up the Mississippi to St Louis.
Each day took him farther and further

from her touch, through towns
with populations smaller than their area,
tree lines thinned then vanished, land bleached
like the bones of cattle lining the trail.
Places where quarter-sections were left
left for dead, land, a disaster never more

than one drought away. And he pleading
for a letter, some word to expel the fears
of losing her that grew with each passing
mile, enclosing pressed flowers:
hawthorns, pieces of sunflowers —
the color, he said of her hair —

columbines, then poppies when he crossed
the Sierras into California, he looking
for the gold that would bring her
to him and we never learning
if he ever possessed a box
to save on his side of the world.