LETTER FOR KENNY
Essay by Gail Peck
This morning the deer came and looked in the window, then headed
for deeper woods, taking your presence but not your spirit. We’d walked
among the deer in California where you lived, sat beneath eucalyptus trees.
You always wore dress shirts so when I was back east and called I could
picture you, home from work cooking your rice, jazz in the background.
Read me one of your poems, I’d say, and the words stretched across the
hours as I lay in bed. I knew your drinking had begun at daybreak.
The last time I saw you, you drove through California traffic with your
one good eye, and brought me the gift of a book. At lunch you didn’t drink,
perhaps worried about the drive back, but kept staring at the bar and
became impatient with the wait. Later, sitting in the sun where I was staying
you told me things you’d never written about, how your mother locked you
and your sister outside as children, how your sister was made to kneel on a
bed of rice for some wrongdoing, and that you were trying to find out if your
father who’d served in the Philippines had been in the Bataan Death March.
He’d never spoken of it, this man who later worked in orchards, asparagus
fields. As you leaned closely over a map, I asked if you thought you’d marry
again, and you said you had nothing to offer anyone.
When it was time for you to go, I leaned my head toward yours,
touching your straight black hair, and held out my camera to take a picture
because I wanted something. Something.
Gail Peck is the author of eight books of poetry including The Braided
Light, which won the 2015 Lena Shull Book Contest. Within Two Rooms
was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Peck’s essays and poetry
have appeared in The Southern Review, The Greensboro Review, The
Louisville Review, Cimarron Review, Brevity, Cave Wall, Comstock
Review, Nimrod, and several anthologies. Her essay “Child Waiting,”
which was published in the Spring 2012 issue of the Apple Valley Review,
was selected as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2013.
On “Letter for Kenny”:
Although I am primarily a poet, I often write prose, especially short
prose pieces that some may refer to as lyric essays. “Letter for Kenny”
was written for a friend who could never overcome his alcoholism.
Like my sister, he died an early death. Kenny was a wonderful poet
and a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson,
where I also graduated. We would often see one another at the alumni
conferences that moved about the country. This piece speaks of our
last time together, and perhaps we both had an inkling of that. I will
cherish the book on Elizabeth Bishop that Kenny brought as a gift.
Perhaps I also gave him a gift that day by listening and caring about
his own life stories. The photograph I took before saying goodbye
remains a loving memory of that day.
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Apple Valley Review:
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Volume 10, Number 1
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by Leah Browning, Editor.
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