Walt Whitman and a Letter of Ourself


Thirty-nine years ago this month, I sat on a bunk in a barracks in Fort Bliss, Texas, writing letters. This week, one came back. I wrote dozens of letters during my stay at Fort Bliss; alas, all are lost – to time’s sometimes worrisome and weary but always wealthy passing and tossing. But no, wait, here’s one returned, to tell a tale.

The letter came wrapped in a Christmas card sent by my oldest niece, whose mother, my oldest sister, passed away a few years ago. “I’m going through boxes of pictures, albums and letters & cards of my parents,” my niece wrote, “and thought it would be fun to return to the sender.”

Today’s Fort Bliss soldiers are no doubt writing emails home. The Internet intoxicates, and perhaps the future return of an email forty years old will be as remarkable as the forgotten letter is now. But later today I’ll walk down to the Bipartisan Café and sit at a window and write some letters, on paper, with pen and ink.

Walt Whitman said, in “Song of Myself,”

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes….the shelves are crowded with perfumes,

I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,

The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

It’s difficult to think of Whitman composing Leaves of Grass on his computer. We can save emails with a click, without much thought or sentiment, but saving letters requires something more, a deeper commitment, perhaps, a foreshadowing of snow and love, of blank beaches and empty waves.


  1. Was this returned letter the beginning of the book ‘Penina’s Letters?’

    1. Joe Linker says:

      No, much earlier genesis, but writing letters can begin books.

      1. Some experiences need to mature, like wine.

        1. Joe Linker says:

          Ah, the corks, the caps, the twist offs, and the dog eared pages! The rusted paper clips. The cool, dry place. The palm at the end of the mind.

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