The papering of distance

I picked out an old letter the other day
At random, from a drawer of old letters,
Ink-stained and fringed in red and blue
The base of a coffee cup ghosting its corner,
And tasted again the flavour of a childhood
Spent drifting the slow space between things,
And glossy moments fashioned from nothing
Kicking pebbles along a road to nowhere,
People watching through grimy bus windows,
Or catching the bounce of the letterbox lid,
In the fly-buzzing heat of an August morning.

Later, the careful unsticking of envelopes
From the mysterious other side of the world
And unfolding of letters on the kitchen table
Smoothing out a latticework of handwritings
The cursive, the slanted, the doodles and smudges
Each one its own signature. All this a prelude to
The papering of distance lined in hopes and regrets
From aunts or cousins I could barely remember,
On tracing-paper thinness, heavy with importance,
Or friends emigrated to their ‘country of origin’,
And in a postscript, how they yearned to be back,
While I, teasing stamps from envelope corners
In bowls of warm water, yearned to be there.

Denise O’Hagan

Listen to Denise reading ‘The papering of distance’ (1:36).


Denise O’Hagan was born in Rome and lives in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing, manages Black Quill Press, and is Poetry Editor (Australia/New Zealand) for The Blue Nib. Her poetry is widely published and awarded. Her latest publication is poetry collection The Beating Heart (Ginninderra Press 2020).

© text and audio 2020