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137 Northeast Regional

Mónica de la Torre

Greetings from the future, Jack. You rightly said to Lorca that years down the line I or some other poet might write something corresponding to the letters you addressed to him in After Lorca. “That is how dead men write to each other,” you declared. I am not a man, but I felt invited to do just that, and I thank you for it.

It’s a crisp, radiant autumn day. The landscape is at its peak. Are these words enough to drag the real into the poem? To feel buoyant all I need to do is not get in the light’s way. I’m in transit, en route to New York. Translating myself, you could say, in the geometrical sense.

The more I write to you now the more I’m missing seeing the landscape fleet by. I don’t even have something to say to you at this time. I’ll return to you once the sun has gone down.



PS: I’ve been commuting to Providence for over a year and not until now did I get why C.D. Wright sold me on the prospect of being able to do some writing on the train. I’ve been sitting in the wrong car all these months. The quiet car, where I automatically turn myself into a cop policing people’s loud typing and cell-phone use. Do they not know they’re sitting in the quiet car? It should be library silent. Don’t they get it? (An aside: Soy una tumba, “I am a grave,” is the Spanish idiom for “my lips are sealed.” I just taught David Antin’s Talking. The introduction has a quote from Antin’s essay on Wittgenstein in which he relates how the philosopher stopped lecturing from notes because “the words looked like ‘corpses’ when he began to read them.”)

Here in the café car, tables are solid enough that you don’t get dizzy or have to put all your energy into preventing your laptop from sliding from the tray table. You can even look out the window as you type. And since there are no seats compartmentalizing the views further, what you get is expansive, sweeping, glorious.

PPS: Okay, one more thing before I let you keep resting, peacefully, I hope. I adore your notion of single poems not bound to longer sequences or book projects as one-night stands. Monogamy is so hardwired into me, it even regulates my writing. One-offs of all kinds I find too unsettling. That might be the reason why instead of taking the southbound train earlier today I got on the one to Boston. I was in a daze all morning since waking from a dream in which I was about to have an affair with someone who was very handsome and highly male. In real life I’ve never met him. Unexamined masculinity I find disconcerting, but what I was most startled by in the dream was the intensity of feeling. Is that how you felt about Lorca? I would have fallen in love with him too had not so many others done so already. I’m more of a cult person. Popularity turns me off. Too predictable. I mean, here I am in the café car speaking to the dead.

After I asked the conductor if I was on the wrong train earlier this afternoon, a man turned to me and said, “It’s my worst nightmare. Maybe you’re in a dream. Maybe all of us here are in your dream.” I’m back on track now. Bye for now. Oh, and thank you for reminding me that different types of love are possible.

Dear Jack,

I love looking at people looking out the window, lost in thought. It gives you a sense of their interiority. Letters do the same. Take the guy a few tables down, he looks so wistful. He goes from his computer screen to gazing out onto the ocean. This train’s route follows the shoreline. I wonder if he’s reading about the most recent mass shooting. I couldn’t get myself to read the news about it. I feel more outrage than empathy. I want to say I’m starting to become immune, but that’d be a lie, since it’s been a gradual, steady progression toward not sympathizing. We get what we deserve, is what I think. (Never thinking myself part of that we, which is peculiar, and complicated.) I told you I might get heavy if I kept on writing. Best to go on listening to Radiohead’s “Present Tense” instead: “Don’t get heavy, keep it light and keep it moving.” It’s my “self-defense against the present.” I’m channeling the lyrics. What kind of music did you like? In this, you’re like the people around me listening to something privately, in public. What they’re hearing, literally in their heads, is nothing but a complete mystery to the rest. (Unless they’re blasting the music and their earbuds leak sound.)

PS: I thought you’d appreciate knowing that I just passed the Mystic Shipyard. Rocks are beautiful in their resistance to narrative. I just saw a swan!

Jack, hi again,

In your correspondence to Lorca you mention a letter you couldn’t finish. You write: “You were like a friend in a distant city to whom I was suddenly unable to write […] because I was suddenly, temporarily, not in the fabric of my life.” If I’m responding to the letters Lorca wasn’t able to reply to himself, why am I not writing this in Spanish? I doubt he would’ve chosen to write to you in English. Apropos of friendship, did you know that fabric and fábrica are false friends? Fabric is tela and fábrica is a factory where things are fabricated, manufactured. It almost seems like you knew this when writing elsewhere: “Nothing matters except the big lie of the personal—the lie in which these objects do not believe.”

Love from the fábrica of my life’s fabric,

Hello again, Jack,

More than an hour has gone by. The sun hasn’t gone down fully yet. There’s a heavy swath of gray descending upon a ring of glowing orange. I’m now in Bridgeport, where the landscape has turned industrial. I need your words now, so much less than you need mine. Regarding reciprocity, I wonder if you looked for signs that could be interpreted as Lorca’s posthumous responses to your letters. Did you think he’d send you signals from beyond the grave? Now, there’s a troubled phrase, especially in this case, since the search for Lorca’s remains continues. Forgive me, please.

I see embers in the sky. Splotches of iridescent orange-pink amid the gray. I look up again, but they’re gone. How quickly it goes dark.

Love to you,

PS: Chitra, whom I’ve known since before 9/11, got on the train in New Haven. As it turns out, she studied with C.D. as an undergrad. At the time she fantasized about becoming a poet, but she became a visual artist instead. Her voice warms up when mentioning C.D. What if she were here with us now, in the café car?

PPS: Another odd coincidence: the woman with bright blue nail polish and two cell phones who was sitting across from me leaves, and a new person takes her seat. He too lays two cell phones on the tabletop. C.D., Jack, are you trying to tell me something? Like you, Jack, I wish I could make poems out of real objects.

Thank you for allowing me this public intimacy. I’m intrigued by the you I’ve conjured here. You keep haunting these words. You famously wrote, “Words are what sticks to the real. We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem.” What’s the real in you? What exactly have I dragged—or translated, should I say—into the text? I’ve reached my destination. Or so I think. For C.D., poetry moves by indirection, and thus “changes the route, and often the destination.” Bye for now, fellow traveler.


About the author

Mónica de la Torre is the author of The Happy End/All Welcome (Ugly Duckling), Public Domain (Roof), and Talk Shows (Switchback); as well as two books in Spanish published in Mexico City, where she was born and raised. Her translation of Defensa del ídolo (Defense of the Idol), the sole book of poetry by the Chilean modernist Omar Cáceres, was published earlier this year by Ugly Duckling. She teaches in the Literary Arts program at Brown University.

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