997: Letter to the Editor

20231113 SD

997: Letter to the Editor


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I am sappy when it comes to romance. I chalk it up to the R&B music of my youth, songs about longing that anchor tenderness as essential, and hone in on loneliness as the bluesy aftermath of love gone awry. Today’s poem knows both that softness, and that messiness.

Letter to the Editor
by Andrea Gibson

There was a typo in the book. 
The line read, I want to merry you.
But merry was spelled M-E-R-R-Y.
I thought, That’s what I want to do—
merry somebody until their blush
paints the town red.

Years ago I went home with a woman
and right before our lips met for the first time,
she jumped up out of the bed, ran to her closet,
and grabbed a stethoscope. She put the earpieces in my ears,
slipped the knob down her shirt onto her heart and whispered,
I want you to listen to my heart speed up when you kiss me.
I kissed her and I listened as it beat faster and faster.
I gave her an apple when I left.
She kept the seeds and has called me
Johnny ever since.
But we didn’t live happily ever after.

When I was a kid I had an imaginary friend named Johnny.
He did all the bad stuff. He spilled my father’s ashtray 
on the white living room rug. He paid Tim Willindanger 25 cents
to pee in his own hands. He snuck into Julie Hill’s toy room
and ripped the eyeballs off of all of her favorite teddy bears.
He called Beth Hayword a stupid poop. (She was a stupid poop).

If you have an imaginary friend as an adult,
there’s a good chance you need a whole lot of therapy.
I had been paying my therapist’s mortgage since 2004.
Johnny had dated everyone I have ever loved.

You were behind me in line at the coffee shop,
and you heard me place my order, and you said,
I don’t think that’s your drink. I think
you’ve been a long time ordering the wrong kind.

The first night I touched you 
I swore to never touch you again
until I’d had spent an entire year
pulling every button from the shirts on my back
and sewing new eyes for the teddy bears.

You’re my favorite editor.
You’re the only person in my whole life
who has ever convinced me I could spell marry with an E
and it could still also mean forever.

These are my vows:

—Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was Johnny Chapman,
was someone who would never hurt a fly.
So much so that if he spotted even one mosquito 
flying too close to a flame, he would jump up 
and put out his own campfire on even the coldest darkest nights.
(That’s the type of Johnny I intend to be.)

—The heartbeat is actually the sound made
by the heart valves closing. 
If you, my love, ever hold a stethoscope to my chest,
I will tell you to listen for the silence in between.
What is and what will always be yours 
is the sound of my heart
finally opening.

“Letter to the Editor” by Andrea Gibson from LORD OF THE BUTTERFLIES © 2018, Andrea Gibson. Used by permission of Button Poetry.