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Take Down the Letters: A play will be presented at Cité des Arts, Lafayette, LA on Sept. 14, 15, 16.

I met Sue Shleifer with a mutual friend a few years ago. She’s a writer, and my friend thought we would enjoy meeting each other. At our lunch together, Sue mentioned a box of letters that she had written to her boyfriend over the course of ten years from age 18-28. The box had been sent to her by his widow. He died young at age 50. Sue wanted to create something from these letters, but at that time, she wasn’t sure what.

Fast forward three years: Sue has written a full length play that will be presented in mid-September. As part of the grant, she had to give a free writing workshop. She contacted me to assist with the poetry writing session. The premise was very similar to the inspiration for her play: Bring in a letter that you would like to use to write a scene or a poem.

After Sue and I met to discuss the workshop plan, I asked Jeff, “Don’t we have some letters from your grandfather to your grandmother in the secret drawer in her desk?” He couldn’t remember, so we looked. The secret drawer is in the top of the desk and can only be opened by pressing a button underneath the drawer in a closed compartment. And sure enough there they were. Letters from the summer of 1925.

According to my mother-in-law, their daughter, they were married in City Hall in New York City. And shortly after, her mother traveled home to Canada to vacation with her family for a month. C was very much in love, and the letters are romantic. “Probably why she kept them,” Jeff said.

Imagine the time period: the only mode of communication was by letter. C wrote pages and pages in fine calligraphy-style handwriting. The one that was most poetic was the last letter of August 8, 1925. In this one, he used a repeated line “Bring back…” I created a poem by finding the poem in his letter.

If you come in on the 7:47, bring the bathing suit with you.
And bring back yourself even if you forget all of the above.

Bring back that dark brown hair I love,
the big wavy curl that hangs
continuously over your left eye.

Bring back the eyes looking into mine
telling me you are mine.
Bring back the nose,
your quivering lips–silent.

Bring back the arms that have hugged me
so tightly–a little tighter still, because–
because they wanted to.

Bring back your heart, that electric spark
thrilling my toes, my body to my head
and down again–and again.

Bring back the mystery, the wonder,
the sweetness that is yours.
I will take it all, put my arms around it
all, and hug, and kiss, and love it
for ages and ages.
Will you?

–Margaret Simon (c) 2018 with words by Cecil Lennan, 1925.

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