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HOMETOWN, USALetter from Tom Smith
Pompano Beach Fire Dept. (retired)
Pompano Beach, FL

Dear Dr. Cleary:

I am writing this letter to tell you how much I enjoyed your reading this afternoon. It was a very moving experience for me. It makes me wish I could write poetry.

I bought your book about an hour before your reading, and finally, a poet that writes without a lot of contrived bullshit! Every poem I read in that brief time was a joy. Readable, understandable, poignant, beautiful. It was a surprise when you started with the poem about the marbles, because I had just told the guy next to me that the last verse in that poem is all you need to know about life.

Dr. Cleary, your poems are like Norman Rockwell paintings, but with balls. You used the term “bittersweet” in one of your poems, and it was perfect there, and also in describing many poems. Sweet, like “right on, sweet sumbitchin’ words are perfect,” and bitter because there’s a powerful, almost visceral undercurrent of emotions that remain like an aftertaste, long after the poem is over.

All of the poems were enjoyable, but three deeply affected me. “Halfway Brook,” “January Crossing, Lake Champlain,” and “My Father’s Room.”

“January Crossing” put me there. As you read, I could see, hear, and taste the whole thing. Vivid. Strong. Horrifying.

Having seen many sad things in my 25 years as a fireman, I am not an emotional man, Dr. Cleary, but “My Father’s Room” almost made me cry. Well, actually, it did make me, but I was able to hold it in.

I don’t have a father, he died shortly after my birth. But, I do have a son, and we’re very close. From my recent lung tests, it appears inevitable that I will die in a few years with end-stage emphysema. I have accepted that, and am enjoying the hell out of my life while I can. However, your beautiful poem was so powerful, it hurt. I pretty much know how it’s going to end for me, and I could see my son there with me at the end, and I don’t want him to go through that. I have read that poem a number of times today, and am very moved. The entire poem is wonderful, but the tender role reversal in the final verse is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

Also, since the final verse is uncomfortable for me in a prophetic sense, I have begun to read it as me talking to my son who is now an adult. It works very well for me, and gives me a feeling of peace.

I am not presuming to be a poetry critic, these are just my personal feelings. Please accept this note as a fan letter.
Thank you,

Tom Smith

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