I am old enough to remember the era when we eagerly awaited snail mail! I grew up in places spread all across India, going to eight schools in almost as many cities. So for me, letters, postcards, even curiosities like telegrams and inland letters held a special place – instruments for and witnesses to connections displaced by time and space. The daily arrival of the “postman” meant something. I loved tearing open envelopes to devour letters, messages, and if we got lucky photos, especially in December/January when friends and family felt obligated to send annual missives letting us know where they were and how they were faring.
Today, most greetings arrive online and in the last few years, even those have declined. My own theory (viruses aside) is that as we went social-media-hysterical, oversharing and hyper-performing our perfectly coiffed and filtered selves in every season, there remained very little left to share at year-end! So while I don’t exactly miss paper in my mailbox, a recent nostalgia for ye olde letters from years past surprised me. With that came the poem above – a throwback to the time of the postman who brought such gifts, news of love or its possibility, as well as long-awaited connections to our door.
Even now I sense a gentle flutter,
at the mailbox,
my earnest sentry that stands
a hollowed out box
of lost connection
affronting the house
in precarious quixotic stance.
Even as these days
colorful papers arrive
to deliver nothing
to tear open and read
No long awaited letters
delivering dreams or love
Reassurances on a postcard
from a traveling friend
Tall claims with pictures of vistas
that fade memories before the ink
No telegram with congratulations
or even a birthday wish!
As if the world ghosted us
before that was even a thing!
Mostly I march arriving sheaf of papers
straight to the recycle bin
I wonder if the mailman watches me
make this rude terminal jaunt
to promptly dump what he delivered
for shredding and pulping this load
however it is they recycle these days,
inventing new uses and wants
Some say recycling does nothing —
they don’t even sort the paper from plastic!
Yet I choose to imagine the paper is rebirthed
with loftier ambition, transformed
into kites drifting skyward carrying dreams,
or earthly bags to ferry our loads
or covers for earnest journals we write in
when we tire from punching keyboards
I remember a time our handwriting
an extension of our talents and foibles
was something we self-consciously owned
a hearkening to the days when
our fingers etched in ink and lead
papered spaces for our lonely souls!
Remember the time you and I wrote endless pages,
streams we let flow across the seas
envelopes sealed and delivered by the “postman”
grandly British in his designated title
Sometimes arriving once a month
and if our luck held, maybe twice
yours articulately stamped “By Airmail”
intrepid musafirs* on his Hero bicycle
transmitting long accounts of our days apart
so I could know what it was like, as could you
the restless grayness of our hours, faded colors
that only our reunion could paint afresh.
A life together we sketched on those pages,
engraved, entwined; no one divining the hearts enclosed.
So when he arrived on Holi & Diwali for a baksheesh**,
I weighed in: his demand is entirely well earned!
How we laughed on our wedding day at the telegram
that arrived with a “massage” of love?
Was it the sender’s folly, misspelling or
perhaps a diligent postal clerk determined
the “message” demands a robust transcription
for a whole sensation for love?
In these ambitious times, does the mailman yearn
to bring a long awaited transmission?
I wonder as the trees on my street age and sigh
despite gratitude for what came to be
sometimes an ache for those days of letters,
while love still arrives in texts and memes.
Yet surprises do come, but differently:
for a few months it was a mailwoman plying my street
What a curiosity she would have been for the world
of my childhood; lugging mail on a “ladies” bicycle!
Those months she tries hard to befriend Dishoom***
who has no use for her delivery routine
“Threat Level 2!” he’d shout to me daily,
forever on his barking guard
Persistently, but in vain,
and as testimony to good intentions,
she’d leave him a cookie or two.
I wondered at her benevolent overtures
Was it her way of trying regretfully
to make some human connection,
knowing the load she must deliver –
that inert pile of paper – couldn’t possibly make!
— Reena | Dec 15, 2021
I would love to hear if my poem evoked any memories or nostalgia for you. Your attention is always a gift.
*Musafir: traveler in Urdu.
**Baksheesh: tip or bonus payment in Urdu.
***Dishoom: our 5-year-old Labradoodle who lives up to his name, a comical sound effect like a pow/kapow from fight sequences in stereotypical Bollywood films.
Reena Kapoor grew up an “army brat” living all over India. Her debut poetry collection Arrivals & Departures reflects that wandering sensibility. Her work has appeared in Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Visible Magazine, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and India Currents. EnActe Arts has produced four of her plays. Subscribe to Reena’s blog at https://arrivalsanddepartures.substack.com/.