Burning My Love Letters
by Jennifer Finstrom

     “If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms.”
Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

In the spring of 1990, I went back to campus after taking a semester off, and after the deep Wisconsin snow had melted and things started to grow in the farmer’s field behind my dorm, I found myself kneeling on the cold ground in the dark with only the moon to watch. I had a book of matches and a packet of letters, handwritten, still in the envelopes addressed to my parents’ house on 86th Street but opened often, read until nearly memorized.

I had come out while my roommates slept to burn my letters in the field, but two things stopped me—fear of burning my hands on the struck match and a prescient moment where I imagined the headline, “Jilted English Major Burns Down Campus.” I felt a coward but went back to my room and slept.

Those letters moved with me to Milwaukee, to Madison, back again to Milwaukee, to Chicago—I think—but I don’t now know where they have gone. They might have vanished into the dumpster in the back of the apartment I shared with my now ex-husband—I didn’t want him to read them but don’t remember ripping them into shreds either and am sure I didn’t put them into the garbage whole where anyone might find them.

But burned or buried or torn, they still remain tangible, still possibly somewhere, still possibly found, and I think of how comparatively easy, how unmomentous it was to delete my ex-husband’s texts and emails, how quickly they were gone, not a syllable to remember, no smell of burning in the air.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me getting ready to head off to campus in the fall of (probably) 1987.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Memories always lead to other memories, and as I was writing this poem, I found myself thinking about many other possible poems. On my very first day on campus in UW-Green Bay in fall of 1987, when I first ran out into that field behind my dorm, I didn’t realize until I was in the midst of it that it was absolutely full of spiders. I decided not to try and put the spiders in this poem but to instead give them their own poem another time.


Jennifer Finstrom
is an instructor in the First Year Writing Program and the Honors Program at DePaul University, as well as Outreach Coordinator for DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL). For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, the Nancy Drew Anthology, and in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks. Other recent work appears in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Escape Into Life, and NEAT.  She is also the poetry editor for Eclectica Magazine, one of the oldest continuously publishing online literary journals.