Green Hills Literary Lantern



Paper Legacies



In the buckled trunk my great-aunt left behind  

I discover mildewed black and whites

of a 1921 Ford and steam-spurting tractor,

musty blue ribbons for prize turkeys

school notes dated 1907, cramped penmanship

recording all Wilson’s cabinet members, lessons

that didn't anticipate world wars. In yellowed articles

clipped carefully as paper dolls

I relive inaugurations, assassinations, a 1903 train collision

that drew so many gawkers the livery ran out of rigs

so people trudged miles in the snow to watch.  


Her parents' cardboard history is here, too:

steamship passenger list

calling cards, cattle receipts

egg laying log books, funeral programs. 


I’m even there in holiday shots orange with age

shuffled so fast they become an animated cartoon

amongst unidentified people, like faces

that come with brand-new billfolds.


Should’ve left all this shelved a year

the time it takes for grief to lose

its sharpness. Or paper its whiteness.


Adding her memories

to mine has doubled their lifespan, value.

Tripled the loss when someday soon

her paper life must accompany mine

torched together, recycled into toilet paper

or united almost forever in a landfill.


Yet it's the love letters that bother me most

my great-uncle’s promises reread, treasured

almost a century

as if feelings fade slower

than the ink preserving them


and I wonder, what happens now? 

What do you do

when you inherit someone else's love?



Judi A. Rypma has published nearly 200 poems in literary journals, most recently Oracle, 3288 Review, Concho River Review, Paterson Literary Review, and Eclipse. Her latest book of poems is Worshipping at Lenin’s Mausoleum (FutureCycle Press, 2016). She has published seven previous collections, and teaches literature at Western Michigan University. Her first novel, The Amber Beads, is forthcoming next year.