Poets Online Archive

Father's Love Letters

March 2000

Imagine you have discovered a packet of your father's love letters. It might be easier to imagine love letters written by your mother, but, no - these are your father's love letters. How would they sound? Were they to your mother or someone else? Were they ever mailed?

Our model poem for this prompt is Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "My Father's Love Letters."
For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


that I had sent home to you after you left me in Clichy.
It was a love letter full of our days and nights there.
Outdoor cafes, laughing at Brando at the cinema,
when you cried but were happy on the Montparnasse,
how you told everyone you were from Dublin,
how I had called you and gushed about my love for you
before realizing I was talking to your sister.

I found that letter when I got home. Unopened.
I put it in a drawer thinking that someday, someone
would find it, open it and read, and know we were in love.

Lia Wright


His exit time had long since come and gone
Gramma said his number had been drawn
Sitting Indian-style upon her floor
I watched her slide open each file and drawer
He’d kept an hidden folder on each of us
Which one fibbed, whom he could trust
Which one preferred canned Mountain Dew
Who had snitched his last bottle of Yahoo
I uncrossed by legs, like a bird I perched
Peering over her shoulder, watching her search
I pretended not to notice the tears that strayed
When she found his calendar of remembered days
He’d penciled in the addresses for possible return
Her abrupt stillness caused me sudden concern
A barely detectable scent around us loomed
The attic air filled with another’s stale perfume
I had no chance to hide my apparent surprise
She saw it in my face, the width of my eyes
Softly patting my hand, she acquiesced with her head
Her posture shrugged then grew stoic instead
What stayed in my memory, frozen in time
Was the strength of a lineage, I’d later find mine.

Catherine O'Canna


Lonely without you
and impatient to return.
So impatient, my love,
I bite my tongue
like my dear mother
always strongly recommended
when I “had to go.”

A long road runs be-
tween us -- hot and dry and old.
I’ll make my quota, sure --
maybe more -- but small hotels
(except this one
place just north of Houston with
a full fried-chicken dinner with green
beans and hot rolls and butter
for 85 cents with apple pie
and a slice of cheese for
only 10 cents more)
make horrible homes.

And I smoke too much and
I drink too much and
I think too much (of you)
and I miss you too much and when
I return, sweetheart, have
patience with my love.

I try patience
over and over. It
works on the road,
in the car, but at
moonrise or dawn
I bleed, can’t speak
numbed with
wanting you
your patience
my patience
my tongue
your voice
your love

Brad Bowles


In the letter my father will never write,
he tells my mother he loves her. Nothing more.
I love you, in small, cramped script.
His hand hurts, gripping the pen so tightly

to keep from going on and on,
so used to qualifying,
giving parameters that explain-
of course, in spite of, because-

Stripped to the bone,
this new syntactical arrangement
catches them both off guard.
She turns the page over, looking for more.
After almost 50 years,
she has come to expect equivocation.

In dance class, before they were married,
they stumbled together
until they mastered the fox trot,
until each could anticipate with certainty
where the next step would fall,
when to glide and when to turn.
They practiced until it was so smooth
that all evidence of hard work was erased.

Susan Kaye