Wendy to Peter: a Letter, a Prose Poem
For a long time, I have been fascinated by the Peter Pan story, and in particular the Wendy character. A child-Penelope, she is the one who waits in the company of her thoughts and her duties. In my own thoughts and writing, I often return to the concept of Wendy sewing on Peter’s shadow time and time again. This piece of writing below is an imagined letter from Wendy, no longer a child, to Peter. A poem, a whisper, an unsent message, a shadow sewn onto a shadow.
Peter, my childhood friend. Peter with wings made of light.
I used to watch your shadow in the winter as we walked down the street together. It grew in diameter as your clothing became heavier. But it was softer against the snow than it ever was on pavement. I would touch it gently with the edge of my hand whenever I bent down to tie the laces of my boots.
Its edges were blurred and slightly cold. But it was kind to me when I touched it. It whispered all of the things you would never say.
Pale grey against the banks of snow, your shadow would drag behind your feet like smoke trails behind a torch.
But I think I have moved in the same way: I have followed you across rocks and ridges. I have followed you through the bed of a river. I have followed you through the sky, but you rose faster and I looked down just a little too soon.
Now that we are grown, I have tried time and time again to feel your shadow as it moves against my legs. Once as you lay down beside me, I tried to keep pinned it between my thighs, so that something of you would stay even when you rose to leave, as you always do.
But your shadow would run from me, just as fast as you run. It knows your velocity intimately, an archivist of footfalls. It knows you like I never could.
I would watch your shadow steady its pace as you moved down the stairs leading from my fourth-floor apartment. It would disappear under the doorway in the front hall. And then you were gone as well. I would press my hand against the banister and feel myself returning. My self. I used to be afraid to be alone with my too-real thoughts. For a long time, I was better with shadows, and other things whose edges don’t cut.
I think we grew up too fast, my love. After so many nights, you were afraid to look into my eyes. I think you saw something there that you didn’t want to see – the reflection of your body, the changes in your face, the lines that were slowly forming around your mouth.
And everything we had been through together. The memories. Your mother’s face as she fell asleep and the glass in her hand spilled across in her lap. The sounds through the walls. And all of the worlds we, small children, invented. Peter and Wendy: we were the bookends to our own story. In the night, we comforted ourselves with the whispers that we wove sweetly from mouth to mouth. They were the blanket we used to warm our cold legs when it was only you and me alone together in the house as the dog, Nana, barked rhythmically in the yard. No one ever remembered that she was afraid of the dark.
At some point, I knew you were gone from me. You did it yourself, in a long slow rip. You stopped waking at dawn. You stopped falling asleep with a book in your hand. You spoke to me in words that belonged to someone else.
I had learned how to mend you for a while, but at some point I was no longer sure if wanted to anymore, or if I should. I was torn: And so I tried sewing you to me, your body facing mine, your lips against my shoulder, or your spine against my left side. I held you close, but the threads would always come undone in the night. I would wake to the awareness that you had shifted away from me, your knees pressed to your chest, your lungs like wings that had never expanded. I would watch you rise and walk to the window, your hand on the damp lips of the glass.
I looked up to the sky once again as I felt you leaving. I had my sewing in my hand. It stays with me, like my own shadow. The needles are the fingers of fairies that we believed in once: they are cold and metal, sharp and unbending.
I look up and see the stars: they are just small holes in the sky, as if someone had starting to sew erratically and then pulled the thread out at the very end. You are there too, just above me: you are a dark blot beneath a cloud. I think I can see outline of your clothing. I think you are wearing the shadow I sewed to you. You have outgrown it. It is a child’s shadow, and you are taller than me now.
You couldn’t escape the changes that came. Neither could I. I see you falling, and, instinctively, I hold out the skirt of my dress like a hammock to catch you.
But then I let the fabric fall, and I walk away. I have learned to love the sea: the waves that come back and dance around my ankles. The calm return of the light across my hands. The ache of the storm and all the names it does not call in the night. The shadows of seagulls that weave through the skeletons of the birds that flew the very same arc in the sky months before. All of these things are my stark but graceful lullabies.