Letter to Kelly Cherry

(December 21, 1940 – March 18, 2022)

She was the girl in the black raincoat
even in summer, in heat
I think of her in January 1965
leaving her belongings in a little room
in Amsterdam and taking a train
into the wilderness
After Brest, Warsaw, Imant in the café
of the Hotel Metropol,
Riga, Indra’s garden, she returned

I think of her writing in old languages
fourteen hours a day
in a city
surrounded by books

I think of her reading a story
about a woman speaking
to another woman facing a wide, open space
It was a story I knew


My teacher and I spoke with Kelly
under palm trees that winter in Florida
Her long skirt loose dusk, violet
At dinner she gave my teacher
a message,
said for me to write her a letter

it’s January 1995
How do I leave
my belongings
in this little room
and take a train into the wilderness?
I have dozens of shoes
that take me nowhere
paintings of blue
water and sky
How do I leave?
What can I carry?
Years ago, there was a guard
outside your window
and he waved you
out of sight

department of transportation

a human heart was found in a pile of salt
yesterday in tennessee at the department
of transportation where workers prepared for snow

a man’s heart dehydrated by the salt
had been taken from his chest in someone’s
hands beating the constant howdy still

disconnected ventricles open to the air
did the taker of the heart panic throw it
like a bloody apple in one of the many piles of salt

(workers are sifting checking for more
body parts) relieved to have it disappear
under all that white surely the victim is easily

identifiable look for the man with no heart
he must have said please or help
the why of taking

a man’s heart is like a solar flare
mayhem is from maim intentional mutilation
it’s almost christmas

I can’t see the man only his heart
the not telling not to another
the never silent heart

taciturn glossy patent
leather shrinking wrinkled by minerals
almost like snow a winter’s bed


On the last day of the year the top story is sports
who is benched who is getting hitched whose reputation
is taking a hit who calls it a career after 24 years photos
of snow and the orange line cut back no notice
to riders the death of the first pope to resign in 600 years
the first woman news superstar and four students
murdered in Moscow Idaho It was a year of bad choices my new
neighbor has a bumper sticker on his black car:
a picture of the president with a question I can’t stop asking
Does this ASS make my car look big? It is so big
I can’t stop seeing it parked in my parking spot as if absorbing
me the termites are chewing away the roof of my yellow
porch raining black pepper on windowsills I wonder if it will all fall
down how much time I have left the songs
of Hildegard of Bingen on my boom box to drown out the drilling
of my other new neighbor black car pacing outside my window
hoping to make friends: Morning I hear one man say though it is
afternoon Hildegard drew herself illuminated in 1151
receiving one of 26 visions like a tender fiery octopus
spreading tentacles over her hair Her final vision had fourteen
songs and I am listening to one on the last day of the year
She would describe what she saw then write down the voice
of heaven Hildegard 871 years later I’m glad to hear from you quieting
the men nothing in the silence after but the sound of engines.


My goddaughter drew my portrait on the back
of the rules for Total Annihilation, speedball

of hair surrounding my entire face, like a lion,
body just two wobbly sticks, smile big as legs.

The rules: type dr. death and a cavedog
bone appears, click the bone to enter the mission.

Begin a game of skirmish, the ATM increasing
metal and energy, Big Brother tracing structures

in the order they were built. The codes continue
on the back of a second portrait, my soulless

round eyes familiar, the family of Mr. Potato Head
and Casper, only a wisp of hair here, curling

on my forehead, newborn or ancient,
arms flying from the corners of my mouth,

jump-rope ready, dithering replaces the gray line
of sight, noenergy, nometal, noshake, nowise

or loss share radar, share metal, share energy,
share all, shoot all, sing, also shoot buildings,

cover the screen in black, view unknown.

Kelle Groom is the author of four poetry collections, Underwater City (University Press of Florida), Luckily, Five Kingdoms, and Spill (Anhinga Press), and a memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a B&N Discover selection and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. An NEA Fellow and Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow, Groom’s work appears in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Groom’s memoir-in-essays, How to Live, will be published by Tupelo Press in October 2023.