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Letter to the Future

September 2021

There are a group of poems collected at about climate change, the rising global temperatures and natural disasters. We are in the season of tropical storms and hurricanes in North America and recently an earthquake in Haiti. The poems collected there all try to humanize the climate crisis.
The poem that caught my attention was “Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now” by Matthew Olzmann. It is about climate change but it is the title that made me think of this prompt.

This issue's prompt was to write a poem addressed to a person or the people of the future. It doesn't need to be about the environment. The topic may not even be global. It might be personal. It might not be 50 years in the future. I can imagine writing a poem for my one-year-old granddaughter when she turns 21. It might be a letter to your future self.

Whatever your focus, some other poems in that collection might be inspiring. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier (after Wallace Stevens)” by Craig Santos Perez borrows Stevens' structure. Another poem by Matthew Olzmann also uses the epistolary form. An epistolary poem, also called a verse letter or letter poem, is one in the form of a letter (epistle) His poem "Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz," is a letter to now and the future. Its topic is clear from its opening lines:
You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


You have your own preoccupations which I –
caught in my time and ever-revising recollections –
can’t even guess. We were obsessed with gold –
nuggets panned from polluted rivers or dug from
heart of earth, causing the tunneled land
to collapse under our own weight; the measured
but unimaginable hoard at Ft. Knox our life
insurance. We announced our progress, our break-
throughs and side-effects in ads devised to mold
our psyches, our expectations, to want more
and more. Did we sing? Karaoke. We discovered
our water-bottles were toxic. We rapped our
rhymes. We huddled inside our viruses and shut
our ears to the critter outside our door.

Taylor Graham

First Letter to a Child Unborn

I wish I could address this to you by name,
but I don’t know your name.
I’m hoping you are my child,
but as of now, I have no child.
I have no prospect of giving birth,
but I haven’t given up on motherhood.
So, this is a first letter to my child,
but if it finds its way to another child,
at least it will have an audience.

I want to tell you about me in these letters,
but you could also read my poems.
I hope all of them will be in a future book,
but for now, they are mostly in my notebooks.
I want to apologize for this world we gave you,
but I wish I could say I did more to better it for you.
I want to write you things that you will cherish,
but that is a tall order for any writer.
I want you to be a reader of poems and novels<
but I really want you to read me if I’m no longer here.
And if you are someone else’s child and not my own,

I want these letters to make you wish I was your mother.

Pamela Milne


I watched a gray squirrel outside my office window.
It chose a laurel tree to build a wintering nest.

Perhaps you might find a way to tell me,
though I no longer sense the world as you do,
why the fading laurel and not the still-vibrant sugar maple,
whose full branches stretch westward and would shield it from view,
or even the light-hued oak, as rich with acorns
as the laurel is with gnarled limbs and branches?

It's the sort of question that no one has asked me
since your why years --
why is she crying; where is he running to?
I dream. Does the cat?
From the back seat, on the highway --
who's at the head of the line?

I wondered then why it mattered to you,
such mundane happenstances of seeming vital import.
I realize now how each question was a leafed twig gnawed into utility,
a stem that added tensile strength to your own wonder-nest,
and how sweetly it has circled back to mine.

Rob Friedman


This packet of postcards should be mailed
on the first anniversary of my death.
I have used "forever" stamps
(such a wonderful concept)
so that shouldn't be an issue.
They are addressed to some friends
and some enemies with messages
I didn't have the courage to say in life.
Some are loving. Some are hateful.
Both may evoke responses
and you may ignore all of those.
Tell them I have no grave.
No one saved or scattered my ashes.
The postcards are all that remain.
maybe they will burn them and scatter those,
some with a prayer, some with a curse.

Tomas Sterne


We old folk hope
You understand
The future
Rests squarely in your hands
It's your task to rectify
All that we've done wrong
From an overheated atmosphere
To homes where none belong
Racial strife and culture wars
Plastic seas, refugees
Extinct species by the score
Genocide, eugenics
Tsunamis and pandemics
Famine, rank hypocrisy
Social media, reality TV

The mess we've made
Took centuries
You needn't clean it up
Instantly or all at once
Feel free to take your time
So much at stake
You need to get it right
This time
For, if you fail
The catastrophe
We left behind
Will swallow
All of Humankind
Leaving you, like Kurtz,
To cry "The Horror!"
At the Darkness

Frank Kelly


To descendants locked in virtual sensory perception

Fresh clingstone peaches
showcased in glass bell jars,

doing the full monty as brazen
as red-light district hookers
on display behind Amsterdam
brothel windows—yet only for one’s eyes—
the lids affixed with paraffin wax
eternalized form and secured moisture
fuzzy peals stripped as naked as
Egyptian mummies sans scented bandages.

Cardinal, cresthaven, snow beauty,
honey babe, and melting flesh peaches,

sometimes in a single row, more often
grouped like transparent ghost shadows
collecting dust while centuries pass;
impending generations will gaze remotely
at the sealed collection of codified fruit
like caravel oddities—crowd pleasing exhibits—
three-dimensional time capsules exhumed
split laser beams revealing holographic images.

Future millenniums revere inviable bell jar contents
much like 21st century vegans venerate B.C.E. grapes.

Sterling Warner


If you are reading this
the world is, I assume,
more or less as it was.
Are you human? Android?
You do not need to say
“I am not a robot,”
but whoever you are
you must still think, wonder.

“You made a mess of things”
I hear you say; “our world
diminished, trashed, water
rising, viruses, war.”

Yes, all that we left you
in our mad rush to build,
propagate; expanding
like deer we used it up.

Yet we tried, some of us,
to stand against the tide,
to build, to save, to work
behind decaying walls.

Your world, blasted or blest,
we received much as you,
its greed and passion, its
lazy ineptitude.

We leave only the Gods’
last gift, crawling forward
on troubled knees, eyeless
in the blent dark, alone.

Robert Miller


If you’d like to go back
to a time when we touched one another,
a time when you could grab a hold of the world
and walk right through it,
a time when there was such a thing
as olfactory intelligence
and people loved smells more than books
and an armpit was a library and a temple
and you could worship and study there,
a time when you could sniff your own fingers
to get word from your lover
more eloquent than a hundred love letters,
a time when it was possible to open a window
and make love to the whole world--
if you’d like to go back to a time
before the children's drawings
began to feature emaciated stick figures
wearing face masks and gas masks
and rubber gloves, zombies walking around
in treeless landscapes with spiky yellow suns
exploding in the upper right-hand corners
with yellow arrows raining down on everything
and everyone--well, so would I, my friend. So would I.

Paul Hostovsky