Where the Nights Are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets, edited by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes.
The first is an exchange between B.C. poet and writer Susan Musgrave and her husband, Stephen Reid, author of Jackrabbit Parole and a convicted bank robber, when he was serving time in prison.
More letters: Toronto Star
Dear Stephen: I’m feeling vulnerable, too. I wonder where vulnerable comes from, what’s the original meaning of the word. I should have studied linguistics. The art of tonguing things? Once, in France, I was in a post office and I was licking stamps and the postmaster told my friend, who lived in the village, he’d like to hire me because I had such a beautiful tongue. When you get out I will only lick stamps in the privacy of our own bedroom.
I walked out of the prison last night, it was snowing, getting dark. One of the guards, walking behind me, said, “I’ll trade you coats.” I had on my raccoon coat, I said, “Even this one isn’t warm enough for me.” He put his arm around me, hugged me tight. He was older, looked Irish. He said, “Maybe you need a drink.”
I said, “You are Irish.” He said, “My parents were.” He suddenly looking ashamed for letting a little of himself be known. Another man, walking slightly behind him, was shackled, in leg irons and a chain around his waist. He carried his belongings in a cardboard box.
The guard said, “I’m looking after him.” I nodded. He became distant and we passed through the gates that lock us out, lock us in, lock us everywhere away. I got in my car and thought of you doing three years chained in the hole having bean cake slapped on your face three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I thought that’s the saddest thing I know. . . .
There is nothing one man will not do to another.
Slipping into your cell, I wander around lost. I love listening to your breathing. Each night I lie awake imagining it to be my own.
My heart’s a rag. It’s a rag in the wind. It’s a soggy bean cake, a man carrying his only belongings in a box, it’s leg irons for one and Danny being poisoned by cyanide.
There is nothing one person will not do to another.
And out of these nothings, all beginnings come.
Dear Susan: I love you. All things begin there. Last night on T.V. a woman said she wanted two men. One to be her friend — tolerant, giving, someone to share her life with — then she wanted a more dangerous one, unpredictable, moody, a male animal. She said more. She was articulate and very intelligent — the only thing that bothered me was the impression I got that she wanted the two men in one — and to choose when he would be what.
Dear Stephen: I’m exhausted. My brother and I went shopping with Charlotte. We bought an axe. I spent the rest of the day in the computer room at the University working on The Joy of Sexual Failure, the chapter called “Total Failure,” where sex leads to death. It’s distasteful, after awhile, to be writing about men who only get off when they eat the toenail clippings of cadavers. Put me off my lunch, rather. One man, who used to close his penis in the toilet until it turned black and dropped off, believed that erections were caused by poor muscle control. I would think it was the contrary, but then I’m not a man. I just went into the kitchen and Bill Deverell was there playing Mr. Potato Head with Charlotte and Matt Cohen.
Dear Susan: My cell was ransacked this morning. I took my writing with me. We’re still locked down. They’re still searching. Why is it that every time someone gets killed they take all my extra underwear? They came up here looking for murder weapons and left with all the shelves and hangers and seven television sets. Maybe the guy was killed by multiple television reruns. Poor Eddy. Heard he was coming in off the rink. He’s a goalie — it’s like a fish out of water, a goalie off the ice. Too cold. Why did I let you leave?
Dear Stephen: I left, but I didn’t leave you. How can I leave you, even for sleep? A minute is too long. For the rest of my life I want to write to you. I want to sit like this and write. Nothing more but letters to you. And nothing less.