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  • Writer's pictureLinda Gruenberg

Letters to and from a dead man

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

On a Luminary for Relay for Life:

Dear Dirk,

No template can help me write a letter to the dead, so I have turned that thing off. Dirk? Your eyes have pennies on them. Your ears are lying against silk—the silk of coffins or cloud linings. Why, when I want to write to you, do I imagine this letter glued onto the bottom of a candle-lit luminary, brilliant for 12 hours but still thrown into a dumpster without one reader? Because if you read my letter, the paper would creep into flames? It would be cinder already? It would be the ash blistered on my hand, kissed on my hand that I hold against my cheek? If you promise to never die again, I promise to be a writing factory that spins words into prayers so tangible, God speaks back.



In my own handwriting on the inside of R. Dirk Jellema’s posthumously-published book, True Things

Dear Toots—

You haven’t done enough penance lately by writing long inscriptions to yourself in the books the dead can’t sign, so have at it. Remember, no cliches, mixed metaphors, or sentimental slop. Sawdust shavings from carved horses and tea stains are okay. Catch your breath first (you are always out of breath) and write in half notes and eighth notes. Make it the kind of jazz that I like. Try to get hard-nosed, would you? You don’t weigh anything, you know that? Some day I’m going to tell you the story about my uncle—the one everyone called Uncle. He moved up to East Jordan and opened up a doctor’s office. My pa drove right up after him when he found out about it and suggested Uncle get his medical license first. And then there’s the uncle who spent his adulthood in Pine Rest Psychiatric Care. Grandma started that hospital, you know. What are the chances that her own son would spend his adult life there? When he was a boy, he was the sweetest of the lot, that uncle. He was the most athletic, the strongest, and could run the fastest. He always won at chess. That’s a novel I’ve got to write someday. Tell me, do you keep in touch with McGookey? I have a bad feeling you don’t. Get out your dictionary and look up the word “snuck.” I think you’ll find it’s a Moddersville-ism. Then write me a 5-paragraph essay on aging. No, make that a 5-book series.

You don’t read enough of the Russians.

You still think too much about horses.



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