Shelley Ehrlich: Letter to Rosa Budd

Source: Prairie Schooner, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter 1989), pp. 100-101
Perhaps the mystery

centers on Edwin Drood -
where's his missing body,
who did the fatal deed?
But I'm drawn instead
to you at eighteen, poised
motionless, unfinished.
Am I entering your history

because you signal me,
more than a century between us?

Again, I'm off chasing
sameness in what differs.
Your childhood losses:
two dim parents who waver,
disappear into darkness.
An instinct for dream
flutters like a moth beneath
your pretty face. You posing

as everybody's darling.
My century allows
its own disguises. Behind
my smile, a starling pecks.

Rosa, grief is a language
we both babbled
before we learned to read.
Both of us so capable.
You, at Twinkletons' school -
charming, petted, indulged.
Me, the brightest girl the Home
took in for years. Such camouflages!

Now terror smothers
my imagination.
How to write you forward?
Let's assume your intuition
spreads a safety net
below you. Alert to lust,
you choose a worthy trapeze
partner. I did. What other dangers

threaten? Say a single cell
corrodes your sturdy body
and poisons.
So small a shift you hardly
sense it. Gathering your skirts,
stepping from room to garden
you smile, plan for tomorrow,
cut dahlias for your table.

Rosa, stay eighteen!
Never bed your child
into earth or tend a husband
on his mattress grave. Rosa, remain.