KristinLWare_TheLotusPond_SmallLoveLetters“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”

—Pascal, Pensées


The real history of the world happens in small ways because it concerns the history of love, itself a series of small events. A glance might shift the order of everything, move the heart into open terrain. A heartbeat might slow the unfolding of a wing, which may in turn cause a brief lull in the tide.  A boat might then be delayed.  That series of small hesitations might change history.  I like to think of this quantum condition as a matter of small love letters.

The glance. The altered heart.  The wing in a backwards origami.  The slowing of the tide that delays an arrival or a departure. An accumulation of details that results in History.


Small love letters might be written on a person’s face. Here is Gretchen watching Rachel, a young woman dancing. Gretchen, the younger of these two young women, doesn’t have what she wants and isn’t who she wants to be, not yet.  She yearns for another version of twenty-something in rural America, but she’s not sure what rural America really means.  She’s not sure what it stands for, even though she knows what she’d stand up for—equality and tolerance, to name two causes.  Perhaps she doesn’t connect all the dots of her making, but she is sentient after all, and when it’s right, she can settle into the chair and listen, an act that will, ultimately, transform her.  Rachel, who is older, not by much in years but by light years in experience and wisdom, has two children under three and is wiser than anyone ever was at twenty-five. Gretchen looks at Rachel, a young woman looking at a young woman, and sees something she likes.  She sees beauty, of course, but something else too.   Something that tastes like the autumn in pears and smells like the wild perfume of a small love letter.


Sometimes small love letters arrive as messages in unwritten languages. Two eagles riding the thermals in full October sun.  Everything I am hanging onto of my friend Virginia, who is dying too fast and too young, lodges in their tailfeathers.  When I go inside the house, I water a Swedish ivy I’ve been keeping for her.   It sits in a cup as white as the eagle’s tail and head, a cup made for a large hot chocolate, a comforting cup, the kind I imagine on a cold night being extended by benevolent hands.   A small love letter I have yet to write.


And there are those small love letters penned but not sent, the ones cramped between the lines in a notebook that will take its place with every other notebook, and all the other cramped love letters between the lines.  The clandestine — but still small — love letter, the kind that could at any moment grow disproportionately large, the one that regenerates itself as it’s being wedged between the words on the page, suffocating with the absence of ink.  Smothered, this secret small love letter might smolder.  In its ashes, an interminable shudder of longing.


Of course there are the small love letters of the daily.  The grateful eyes of a soft brown dog.  The smooth motor purr of a cat.  A tenderness in the other’s voice.  The seals in the bay like satin ribbons pulling through quicksilver.  The heron, my own personal leit motif, standing stock still on a rock in the old harbor, as if I had planned it landing there, at that moment.

How to not have gratitude for the small love letter of the maple trees in the yard, one yellow as a golden delicious apple, the other a startled carnelian?  I fold carefully in memory the note sent by the fluid V of the Canada geese in the low, endless sky that reaches across the Bay of Fundy.  I am humbled, too, by the small love letter of the wind rifling the silver maple leaves, baring their undersides of naked white suede.


But to return to the small love letter written as a glance, translated into altered history. Would the Barrow gang have made their mark in the history of lawlessness had Bonnie met a robber baron instead of a robber? Would the canon of love poetry have been complete had Petrarch not seen Laura? And how might Western civilization have changed had Cleopatra not rolled out of a carpet for Caesar, or, after his assassination, then charmed Antony?

Kim Dana Kupperman is the author of a collection of essays, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings: Missives from the Other Side of Silence, which won the 2009 Bakeless Prize in Nonfiction, selected by Sue Halpern and awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is the founder of Welcome Table Press, a nonprofit independent press dedicated to publishing and celebrating the essay. She works as managing editor of The Gettysburg Review and teaches in the Fairfield University MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Photo by Kristin L. Ware