Wendy to Peter: a Letter, a Prose Poem

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 PAN. One of the classic illustrations by F. D. Bedford from the illustrated edition of J.M. Barrie’s most celebrated story about Peter & Wendy & Tinker Bell. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T5OXAG8

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.





You gather the lilies in the folds of your thoughts
they are the same colour and feel of your skin,
under a torn silk dress stained with rainwater
You are a white sky
bruised with the sound of the sea

When I lay down with you by the ocean
the lines in the sand
tangled tightly into the lines of your palms:
these become your fishing nets
Inside them, you hold my heart, a seahorse
coiled deep in its fetal position;
the cluster of my lungs, wet and dark as seaweed;
and my eyes, twin seashells
that close shut on their own shadows

I am your mermaid, you say,
and you are my song that washed away

You know the words I was going to say
before I say them
like a forest knows
the shadows that wander through; they are
always new
but always remembered
because their kind has walked there
oh so many
times before

Violin Girl

Violin Girl

You placed the blue vase on the windowsill beside my music stand
Through it, we could see the ocean
and the cracks in the window
that have become as steady as the lines on your face
You used to hold me when we were sleeping. But then the cold set in,
and now you hold your heart to the wall, seeking heat
from the room next to us
where the dogs sleep and the moonlight creeps in

You used to call me the same names that my mother once called me:
Sweetheart, little one, violin girl
You loved the way my hair, now white, would tangle with the strings
as I held the instrument close to my face. Violin girl

I used to say that you’d forgotten my real name
And so you would write it for me in the sand, with yours,
as we watched the seals along the shoreline,
their heads like music notes above the water

In the winter, you would work in the garage for hours
before I came home with grocery bags in my snow-worn hands
You were voiceless but covered in webs of light
as you walked out into the evening air
to greet me, looking past me

I held your small words like a child
and you held my hand
like a rock face holds a pool of water

In the evenings now,
we sit on the porch as neighbours’ children play in the streets
We watch the shadows slip between the posts of their hockey nets
They don’t notice the way that the shadows always win
But we do. You know the shadows on my face
You know the way they move, and what they have taken
You know the way they shiver with me
as the air changes

My violin sits in a case under the stairs now
And there is a part of you that is there too
beneath the boxes and books of old photographs:
the curve of your arms
your black hair, now silver,
the tautness of strings,
the light like fine whispers weaving in between the strands of your hair
under the trees by the river beyond your mother’s house
my hair between your outstretched fingers,
my hands across the concave your body makes
between your ribs and hip bone
as you lay down beside me and found my name
somewhere beside the silhouette of reeds



You fade like red in the light of the morning
You become the colour of rust
You begin to match the truck in the yard
abandoned and free to do its own bidding

You gave me your name and your business card
You wanted a life that was full of beginnings
You wanted a sky that was empty of warnings
You wanted a heart made harder by lust

You asked me to take your name and your pain
And baptismal waters made sacred by sinning:
Your ocean was placid, you needed my thrust,
You wanted the red of a sailor’s morning

You wandered between our bed and the cold waves
You asked me if I would continue adorning
your neck with fine beads like the night of our wedding,
the sweat that unwinds between mountains of dust

You gave me your ride and I gave you my trust
I opened my heart wide instead of spreading
My legs were held tightly against my chest, my hands
Were gripping your wrists and your lists of demands



I stood under the shadows of the frost-lined lilac tree
its branches lifted to the sky by the thrust
of the fists of brittle flowers not yet broken apart by the cold
I hid under laughter
not wanting to ask:
are you too young for me
too sure of what you want

I wore a red dress that is too tight
But it keeps my heart from falling out
and making a mess all over your shoes

After we talk inside for a while,
you yawn to tell me I should go home
I catch this
like a fishhook through skin
intention that blooms into accident

You used to drive me across the city
And now every red car that passes
reminds me
of the way your dark hair looked
when you rested your head on my lap
and turned your voice away

I don’t want to hear about how you used to bring
women flowers
I don’t want to know this
I imagine you always chose the red ones. We like these best
They remind us that we’re not pregnant, and so
there’s nothing to fear

that we are still young
and in between the rifts of our bodies
there is still time
to live as if there is no need for sleep

My dreams have become ingrown
like fingernails
I never cut them
I sense your eyes aren’t used to candlelight
and so you see by touch
you read the thoughts
that I hide just beneath my skin

you know the braille of goosebumps
like the princess knew a single pea
under a stack of 20 mattresses:
these are the things that mean

When you left, I held onto all your childhood fears
that you once told to me between shards of broken glass
and I kept the shadows you left on my body
They spread like water over linen

When you used to sleep beside me
I would look out the window every morning
at the birds
the northern cardinals
points of blood against
the silence of the white sky