Letter in the Time of the Spanish Flu Pandemic
Greenleaf, Idaho, 1918
Dear Sister Mary,
We all are well except Neva and she is well as
could be expected under the circumstances.
The weather here of late has been rather squally.
a beautiful day today, however.
I hope you are well and happy.
I will be 36 years old my next birthday.
Our lives are slipping away. Do you
Remember when I boarded with you and Jim?
And you put up such nice lunches for me?
If I have a little girl I want her to be just like her
Aunt Mary. Do you remember the time I
kicked your kettle of pears all over the floor?
Now Mary let’s go up and see Ella and stay to supper
and have cake and tea and then after dark climb up
the old creaky stairs and look out of the little window
at the great big moon shining down thru the silver maples
and about then have to go home down the road along the trees
always afraid to look behind and yet afraid not to.
Say it feels like there is a ball of hot woolen yarn
sticking right in my throat. I believe I am more afraid
to look behind now Mary. So I try to look ahead to
something better and I do believe we can find it.
How does Jim like Idaho spuds?
Or did you get any yet?
Your loving brother,
Ward D. McArthur
For a New Grandson
Walking home from the hospital
I see a late-summer green-grass lawn
filled with rows of ornamental stones
displaying names—James, Martha, Annie.
To my new grandson Riley
born only a few hours ago
his first breath stunning me
I say—as surely as life comes
little one—I give you my love
a prism of flame bursting free.
Cemetery sprinklers shoot streams of
rainbows in red yellow green blue violet
dazzling the lazuli sky and promising
seasons as fleet as autumn in passing;
winter deaths no more than preludes
to spring’s melting snow, its rivulets
soon to sparkle down thawing foothills.
So Riley, far away in future days
when you walk along and see
such a grave as one of these
jeweled by a brilliant rainbow
listen for an echo of my love.
Be stunned with an ache of desire
to love your child with this same
fever of earthly passion flowing
as now when I shiver in sunlight
wrapped in a shroud of longing.