Here is Kevin’s letter; below it are the responses some participants created. We’ll continue posting them as they arrive. You are also invited to respond!
Dear Thursdays Writing Collective,
Thank you so much for having me as part of your lettering project. Epistolary. What an interesting word! There’s a pistol in the middle. A coincidence that a bank-robber might use in a note slipped to a teller:
Dear Employee of this Bank,
First, let me state that I bear you no ill will. I imagine you are trying your best to make ends-meet. You might be a single mother with multiple mouths to feed. Sadly, my circumstances are such that I’ve not been able to earn a living through socially acceptable means. Hence, I’ve resorted to this epistolary approach.
Pay very close attention to that word. In the middle of this adjective is an object that I happen to be holding in my pocket, pointed in your direction.
B. R. Obber
P.S. Your largest denominations please.
What if our teller had a very level head? What if she wrote something right then and there in reply? Imagine a correspondence between them. Back and forth through an impossible number of exchanges while the line up grew. Here we have letter #12:
Regarding something you asked letters ago: Where would you locate yourself in the sky with the constellations? I thought you were trying to fluster me with flirtation, but having gotten to know you better, I see you are serious in all your questions. If I were a constellation, I wouldn’t want more than two stars. The world is a noisy place and I don’t wish to add to that deluge of dissonance. I don’t want my name up in the clutter of lights. I would be happy as a constellation with one star on one side of the night sky with another star. I suppose that doesn’t fit the usual description of a constellation, but as you know I don’t fit the usual description. I would love to be in a union with another solitary star.
Now, I suppose I’m the one doing the flirting.
P.S. A second bag if all the bills don’t fit?
As people shift their weight from foot to foot in the ever-expanding line, what if the letters between Barthelme (the failed poet gone into the bank-robbery business) and Meredith (a woman with literary ambitions of her own) were to progress and grow into poems?
Here is something rough-hewn:
Hovering Above the Ground
Inner poets of the past at one end
and the swat-team and guards at the other.
I’m a tightrope walker on troubled times.
My knees shift over the shivering rope
pulled towards Ovid’s idyllic fields of myth:
Eos, goddess of the Dawn, her rosy
fingers sifting denominations of colour.
Orion, her lover, thwarted by the jealous
gods. The rope suddenly jerks guardwards
towards the blurting threats of a bullhorn.
“Come out with your hands up.” But I can’t.
My hands are needed to write towards my
other self who’ll never hear without this letter.
P.S. I think it’s Nietzsche who writes somewhere that we are a rope over an abyss. Idiomatic England suggests we’re paper or cloth: being torn between two things. Oftentimes, a man who’s held a gun refuses to entertain metaphors. He identifies solely with blatant power and refuses to imagine anything else. To be a rope or a piece of paper is simply nonsense. I would be the pen and paper to write towards you, my other self. I apologize if frightened you when we met.
Voila a prose-poem of questions:
What is our place in the particles? Where can I find you in the night sky? What do we have but each other and the unique questions we tackle together? Does movement always allow for insight? How much did Nietzsche’s moustache weight? Have you ever overcome writer’s block by shifting directions at your desk? How many times do you have to move before you make yourself a merry-go-round? Is stillness at your center or a compass at true north spinning around itself? Why are you a bank-robber? What next?
It’s Saturday morning here at my writing desk. (It could be any day of the week in the world of Barthelme and Meredith.) I’ve been interested in the past couple of weeks in writing that incorporates a variety of forms. It’s Monday morning. I’ve spent some time revising the above letters and poems. The way they skip forward in time and form. It’s Wednesday and I gave them another read through. I’ve been busy at a day job that has taken me so far from this world.
I breathe a sigh of relief to be back if only for a couple minutes. Different days but inside the same moment of attention. The rain outside my window rains over the world of Meredith and Barthelme as they figure out their getaway.
a million cheers,
Responses from Thursdays Writing Collective
Susan Musgrave at work in a bank,
trying out phrases for a poem
as she counts twenties.
A man comes to her wicket
Stephen Reid, well-mannered,
passes her a handwritten note.
Dear Susan, I read your poetry in the evenings.
Please give me all your cash
Empty your money drawer into this bag
Please don’t push the alarm button
She writes a return note, Dear Stephen,
Are you sure you want to rob a bank?
Wouldn’t you rather meet me for lunch,
and listen to my new poem?
We have security cameras.
He writes to her, Are you sure you want to be a poet?
Old bills please.
Dear Stephen she replies, of course
I want to be a poet. What do you yearn to be
other than a bank robber?
Security guard is looking your way.
Dear Susan, Damn and blast – just that stack of twenties then.
Meet me in the park near the aviary.
The poem about the dandelions – lovely.
Customer, male, walks into bank. Wolfish eyes survey the surroundings. Four tellers, manager’s office, back room for safe, coffee room. Armed security guard at right side of door. Twelve customers. His target. Pretending to fill out a bank slip, he waits patiently, then steps up to her booth.
Smiling, his eyes drown in the young, innocent nervous eyes greeting him. He marvels at the words escaping from pearly white teeth, highlighted with ruby red lips. Her voice, the cheerfully song of a spring chickadee greets him. Angelic sunbeams sparkle in her jade black hair, tied back in a clerical bun. He hypnotically hands her his note.
Dear Ms Bank Teller: Good afternoon. I must apologize for this written way. I cannot speak nor can I hear. I hope you can read my writing.
Brown, baby bambi eyes, partially screened with long, lush eyelashes, impishly smile back at the tall, silver haired, handsome man. A professional, near the same age as her father. Neatly attired in a “well dressed, well priced,” three piece Moore’s suit. Friendly smile, dark hooded eyes. Polite.
Dear Customer: No problem sir. I have had several instances where I have to communicate with deaf and dumb people so please proceed.
Terse, trembling hands scribble his annoyance.
Dear Ms Bank Teller: I may not be able to speak. May I not hear. Nor may I not be dumb!
Crestfallen lips and blushed cheeks accept the brittle note conterminously shoved back at her. He cannot hide his irritation. Delicate fingers hesitantly write back. Pleading eyes awkwardly pass the perfumed note.
Dear Customer: I am so sorry sir, I did not mean that like that, I mean…oh I am so sorry I didn’t mean it that way. I’m sorry. Please? How may I help you?
Dear Ms BT: No problem butt? I ‘m in dire straits so, like the song goes, I must demand:
GIVE ME YOUR MONEY! PLEASE.
Dear Customer: WHAT?!
Dear Ms BT: Stay calm. Relax. I have a gun in my pocket, stay normal and just
GIVE ME YOUR MONEY! PLEASE.
Dear Mr. Hold-up guy: I. I can’t do that!
Dear Ms BT: WHAT?!
Dear Mr. Hold-up guy: As soon as I begin to empty my cash drawer two things are going to happen. One: The teller next to me will notice and set an alarm. Two: Fearless Fosdick at the door will probably turn you into Swiss cheese with his revolver!
Dear Ms BT: Pretend this note is a cashier’s check then.
Dear Mr. Hold-up guy: It’s not really worth it guy. I only have $1,500 in my till. What is to stop me from setting off an alarm before you get out the door? Losing your life or going to jail for a measly amount really isn’t worth it.
Dear Ms BT: I got nothing to lose. I lost my job to a FTFW! My wife left me for another woman, emptying our joint bank accounts on her way and? And to top things off my dog died Thursday When it starts to fall apart it really falls apart, I’m going bald. I’m a worn out shoe. I got nothing better to do, nothing to lose.
Dear Mr. H-u-g: What’s a FTFW?
Dear Ms BT: A Fooking Temporary For-anal Worker.
Dear Mr. H-u-g: You mean F*&#+2! Temp Foreign Worker?
Dear Ms BT: No I don’t swear and I think the government program is anal!
Dear H-u-g: Hey!. What makes you so special? You think you’re the only one having a bad hair day! This job is low paying, I am training a FTFW who will probably displace me. The manager is a chauvinistic pig, no insult to pigs intended by the way. My car died, I can’t afford to fix it and? And my slum landlord is demanding oral and anal sex in lieu of the back rent I owe him.
Dear Ms BT: Give me a break. Just hand over the money and I’ll take my chances.
Dear Mr. H-u-g: We both need a break, the people behind you are getting anxious, I think they think you’re dumb.
Dear Ms BT: Maybe I’ll just turn around and shoot them!
Dear Mr. H-u-g: Don’t be dumb. Why hurt innocent people?
Dear Ms BT: I don’t care anymore. They don’t care. Hurry up! Give me the money!
Dear Mr. H-u-g: Look, just relax a minute.
Dear Ms BT: LOL!
Dear Mr. H-u-g: Seriously, I have an idea.
Dear Ms BT: WHAT?
Dear Mr. H-u-g: Listen, we are a small branch here and do not carry a huge amount of cash at any time except on Thursdays. That is when, near the end of the day we receive a large amount of cash to cover Friday paydays. You should come in around closing on Thursday and hand me another note.
Dear Ms BT: You’re just trying to get rid of me now.
Dear Mr. H-u-g: Listen. You bring a note in an envelope for me to take to the doorknob manager. Powder the note with talcum.
The note will read: Dear rotten, useless bank manager! Congratulations you have just contaminated yourself with a deadly poison and will die a horrible death within the hour unless you invite me into your office. We will then arrange a loan and you will have Ms BT bring $150,000 cash in this briefcase.
Upon delivery of said amount, I will leave taking Ms BT hostage. Once I am sure no police have been notified, Ms BT will return with the anecdote before your bodily fluids start leaking out from your ears, eyes, mouth, penis and ass. If you do not agree to this you will die a painful, lingering death and they will be able to bury you in a 2 litre coke bottle.
Dear Ms BT: What if he refuses?
Dear H-u-g: Then you can do us both a favor and just shoot him.
Dear Ms BT: WHAT?!
Dear Mr., H-u-g: Just kidding. Like you said, you have nothing to lose. He is such a whipped weak kneed chicken shit bully. Hopefully he does not pee his pants, he’ll crumble easily. Too easy really. Put some itchy powder in with the talcum. Drive him paranoid nuts.
Dear Ms BT: He’ll be able to describe me to the cops. I won’t get far even with you hostage.
Friendly shy eyes turn serious. The impish smile turns into a grim reaper snarl. Delicate fingers grow claws, angrily writing her ferocious intent.
Dear H-U-G: Are you really that dumb?! Shave your head, wear glasses! Disguise yourself. Gee whiz.
Dear BT: Sorry. You’re serious? You really think we can do this?
Dear H-U-G: I hate my life, sometimes I just wish I was dead. I have been waiting so long.
For this moment. It’s….. destiny.
Dear BT: Destiny? Yes maybe it is destiny. I’ve been chasing destiny all my life.
Dear H-U-G: I don’t even know your name. I’m Bonnie.
Dear Bonnie: Nice to meet you Bonnie. My name’s Clyde.
Dear Clyde: Destiny. Yes we have met our destiny Clyde. Hurry now, people are really getting annoyed behind you. See you Thursday around 4:20. Don’t be late.
Dear Bonnie: I’ll be back Bonnie. Bye
PS I’m not deaf. I not dumb.
Dear Clyde: I know.
As I understand it, you never heard the end of the story, the one where my mother decided on a whim to run off into the sunset along with my father and the 50 million she had just helped him steal. Allow me to fill in the rest for you.
To say my upbringing was strange would be an understatement. I have this feeling that usually children are the centre of their parent’s universe, but simply put, I was not. I mean, judging from their past melodramatic, impulsive actions, you could have spotted the makings of a neglected child a million miles away.
This inattention, of course, made me yearn to be seen.
When I was 8, a bully at our expensive international school made my best friend cry. Naturally, I kicked him gloriously hard in a most tender spot. I still wonder to this day if I might have rendered him infertile.
At 12, I disappeared onto the ocean for a solo sailing voyage to some neighbouring islands in our archiepelago. When I returned after two days, my parents were briefly ecstatic, but within a few hours were back to their writing games and cocaine.
My crowning achievement was probably at 15 when I got my first introduction into light role play. I transformed into Lolita for a friend of Daddy’s. This definitely did not please my parents, and I was quickly sent away after they learned of the affair.
The dreary boarding school in the Scottish Highlands I was sent to was a far cry from the sunny freedom of the West Indies. For reasons unknown, Mummy and Daddy never once did call me during my time there, but they did send me letters. Heaps and heaps of short letters filled with regrets, advice, and ramblings. Through their letters, I have learned more about their lives, hopes, and feelings for me than I ever did when I was physically with them. A plot twist indeed.
From Mummy: Oct. 1st 1986
I must warn you never to date artists. They will do little to keep you from dipping into dark pools that are better left undisturbed. They shorten your lifespan by at least 5 years. If they’re a musician it could be closer to 10. Remember, what is it to be lost when what you have found is devoid of what you desire?
All my love,
From Daddy: Apr. 21st 1987
To my Dearest Sunshine Girl,
This sunny paradise seems to exist through a veil of grey since you’ve been gone. I hope you don’t think of us too harshly, as the pain we feel in our separation from you is just as tangible as your physical absence.
Love you sweetheart,
From Mummy: Jan 13th 1988
To my Beautiful Daughter,
I am so sorry I have not been there to watch you grow into a woman. There are not words that can express the grief that pours through me when I think of missed birthdays and school dances. Just the banal things I know neither you nor I care much for. Now that you’re nearing the end of your secondary education, I hope you see the lessons we have tried to give you in apology for our own failings. Know that our love for you is boundless, like the oceans that separate us.
I clung to these letters, to their truth and nakedness, a side of my parents they had never shown me. I came to regard these letters as reflections of my parent’s true selves.
After a lifetime of beautiful words, I’ve come to find they mean both less and more than you think. Their meeting and love seems less strange with the insight that although they possessed bodies, they may have been most alive in their words.