Heirlooms: poem based on the letters


For this family no precious objects,

collections to be loaned to museums

or passed down as heirlooms.

Scarce enough money sometimes

to put food on the scrubbed table

or buy corduroys for the boys

to cover their bare bums from trousers

worn too thin for decency.

Yet on the surprising tide

some treasure is brought to shore.

What strange waves brought to me

this package of well-thumbed letters?

Paper is worn to silk, envelopes torn

by eager fingers when they first arrived

bringing news from home.

Some are written on paper torn

from schoolbooks, or written on the backs

of things no longer needed:

no notepaper to speak of in the house.

I would welcome comments on this poem with constructive criticism. I want these poems to be as good as possible, partly because I always want that and partly because I want to do the letters justice and I want to produce work that can stand next to Maria Walker’s wonderful artwork and still hold up its head.



Filed under poetry, Poetry Collections, The Inspirational Old Letters

5 responses to “Heirlooms: poem based on the letters

  1. The stanza breaks come after line 8 and line 15, for some reason this has not been pasted, and it is not meant to be double-spaced. Damn Word.

  2. Dawn Ingram

    ive sent you an inbox

  3. I like the idea of a different kind of heirloom, also of paper worn to silk – I can feel that! I’m a bit iffy about well-thumbed, which sounds too familiar, and I find these lines a mite confusing:

    or buy corduroys for the boys
    to cover their bare bums from trousers
    worn too thin for decency.

    I know what this means, more or less, but the phrasing makes me ask nitpicking questions like “aren’t corduroys trousers too?” and also to query whether “bare” is right; if they have threadbare trousers they still aren’t quite bare-arsed and anyway if you take the word out you don’t actually lose anything, which suggests you might as well.

  4. Thanks Sheenagh, that’s really helpful. I need a replacement for well-thumbed, which is will think about. I love the task of finding better words!
    The other bit: I want to leave bare in because it’s a quotation from the letter I amdrawing on. But .what about if I take out

    from trousers
    worn too thin for decency

    and just leave:

    or buy corduroys for the boys
    to cover their bare bums

    or even
    because their bums were bare (which is closer to the letters)

  5. jean hill

    I liked the suprising tide – I wasn’t expecting the word tide but enjoyed the thought of all those letters in a bundle like a wave and the wave of emotion that you must have experienced on reading them. Two ‘worns’ and two ‘torns’ – I always ask myself why have I done that if i use a word twice. Is it emphasis here? The letters are worn so were the trousers – both shiny probably.