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January 2024

Alternate Delivery System

A delivery method that does not require a carrier

      The hour after my youngest son, Noah, tells me Garrett has hanged himself in “the best bedroom” in their rental close to campus, I deliver another batch of poems to houses, set far back from the road, in my rural area. It’s no neighborhood or subdivision with a clever name or a gated entry. It’s a mix of double-wide trailers, mid-century ranches {without Alice as the maid for the blended Brady bunch of children} and farmhouses that long ago served as Underground Railroad stations. Each poem, even the darkest ones layered with despair, holds a fragment of hope—a splinter festering in a corner of hippocampal memory. In our baseball-and-apple-pie country, “deaths of despair,” fatalities resulting from alcohol and drug abuse or from actual suicide, continue to rise exponentially.*

      I fold several poems into a dozen envelopes, then mount my bike to distribute them. Perhaps mood follows action. I hope the physical exertion of delivering 3-D bundles will ward off my inevitable darkness. Garrett worked for UPS while going to college; when the boxy brown trucks barrel past me, I pay him tribute.

      My sporadic practice of delivering poems started years ago. My former college housemate sent me an article featuring Natalie Potell, the poet laureate of Prince William County in Virginia. Potell transcribes short poems on greeting cards, then mails them using an auto-generated list of addresses. Potell was inspired to send out poems after her decade-long pen pal passed away. “Getting something in the mail that’s not a bill, that’s not junk mail—it really means something. You actually had to touch it with your hand, you had to lick the back of an envelope, and get the stamp.”          Unlike Potell, I do not mail the poems but rather deliver them somewhat surreptitiously by bike or by foot. I close the flap with colorful stickers—mini-versions of Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” or Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” The art holds a connection to rural life, the hard work involved in a wholesome harvest countered by toxic herbicides, rising debt and bad credit scores.

Carrier Alert

Community service program started in 1981 in which a carrier attempts to detect possible illness or accident suffered by the customer when alerted by an accumulation of mail.

      When mail carriers sound an alert, officials arrive at the suspect premises dressed in personal protective gear or wearing bullet-proof garments. Garrett was the only one living in the house during the summer of his death. Mail not yet accumulated in the box, Garrett’s older sister found him the day after he hanged himself. There is no face shield or latex gloves capable of keeping such a horrific image from permanent placement in long term memory. I met Garrett briefly a few weeks before his death. 

My husband and I were dropping off a kitchen table and other furniture. Garrett held the back door open as we maneuvered clunky cast-off pieces into the rental house. His slight frame was somehow balanced by his mass of long hair. Curls and tangles glowed with a reddish fire—no auburn man-bun for him. My first and sadly only impression of him left me no lasting connection, no aura of understanding.

Printed Matter

Paper on which words, letters, characters, figures or images (or any combination of them) not having the character of a bill or statement of account, or of actual or personal correspondence. . .

       I re-read his obituary looking for some proof that my own children will be spared such despair. Generations of men on my father’s side suffered various degrees of mental illness. As a child I overheard confusing conversations involving hospitalizations for nervous breakdowns. My father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder too late in his life to save me from my alternating terror and my effort to make him some version of happy. Handguns and straight razors were removed at various times of his life for his own protection. My middle son suffered a short bout of OCD when he started kindergarten and had a difficult transition between college and the “real world.” He began seeing a therapist and taking an antidepressant. Even when the dose was doubled, its effectiveness or lack thereof was never clearly apparent. He was living alone in the short days and long subzero stretches of a Minnesota winter. When the phone rang at odd times, I would not pick up, as though I could break open a closed circuit of tragedy. I obsessed over the most likely methods he would choose that would prove fatal and then assigned prophetic weight to my dark anxiety that could turn into magical thinking. It was a weird mental loop that I tried to unravel with long runs and irrational poem deliveries—always with some significant mileage involving my totem numbers. Too many articles, on Huffington Post or in the New York Times Science section, referenced the increasing rate of suicide across age groups.

Obvious Value

Mail matter that is likely to have value to the sender or addressee such as merchandise, photographs and gifts


How do I measure the contained potential value in a few poems? In his essay titled “Opening Up Malcolm: Poetry as Spiritual Practice,” Chris Anderson states that every creative act, every healthy gesture, in some mysterious way helps advance the work of creation which is still going on and always going on. The poems I deliver are a witness to Sherman Alexie’s search for God, his confession at the altar of loneliness. They contain the fried corn and strong coffee found in George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” I disperse “viral” poems like Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.” Smith’s stanzas cover the hope and fear that encompass parenting. Readers began sharing, posting, tweeting and translating her poem hours after it was published online in Waxwing just after the Orlando Massacre. I deliver Eliot’s fragments to shore against my ruins into the metal mailboxes dripping their path of rust.


Phantom Route

A pseudo route or dummy route not associated with any carrier


      A neighbor, a retired postmistress, once informed me that opening others’ mailboxes to leave even a thank-you note or bereavement card is a federal offense. I deliver the poems fully aware of my suspect behavior. I welcome the hit of adrenaline that comes from knowing I could somehow be seen and reported. On the envelope’s face, I print (never cursive, which seems more easily traced) “Poem Project—Pass One On,” or “Random Act of Literary Kindness.” By labeling my poem-dispersal practice I grant it validity. There is no return address on the upper left corner. Recent research has shown that social isolation causes the same increase in mortality risk as smoking and is more deadly than obesity. Yet there’s no proven method or prescription to cure or prevent intense loneliness. Garrett was the only person living in the rental during the summer. Noah came home to work his summer jobs. Who can know if a housemate or in-person friend held enough power to save him? As I drop off paper bundles, I don’t actually believe I provide a one-dose solution against mental despair or suicidal ideation. Yet I’m still compelled to deliver.


Hell or High Water

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” words that have long been associated with the American postman. However, they are by no means an official creed or motto of the United States Postal Service.


      I find some comfort in walking or biking the rural miles wrapped in the heat of summer or facing the real-feel frigid winter wind. I have no way of knowing if Garrett gave much thought to poetry but as I drop poems into boxes, I think about his family composing his obituary. His parents generated a list of his passions. He was majoring in computer programming, and loved philosophical conversation, music—from Mozart to Seventies rock and photography. I search for some quantum particle connection to Garrett by delivering on the 28th day of the month (his birthday) or the 20th (his death day). The poems I choose are more short than long, more rural than urban, more concrete, less formal in structure. In this world that includes too many options around most decisions, it’s a luxury not to analyze which particular poem I drop to nest inside the box. The whole practice feels more analog than digital. The poems stand in for the raspberry muffins, zucchini cake, or triple ginger cookies I bake but would never randomly disperse. In this time of mass shootings and anthrax tainted packages, who would dare eat baked goods or a fresh peach of unknown origins?


Refused Mail

Unopened mail that is not accepted by the addressee and is returned to the sender. The addressee must mark “Refused” on the mail piece.


      In a post-Covid world, I hope the envelopes are opened and puzzled over. As I stuff poems into rural boxes, I realize there’s little chance that any will be memorized, then taken out at will and used against emotional or physical captivity. Prisoners of War and victims of solitary confinement have testified to the redemption they found in memorized poems, scripture, or fragments of letters. Major General John Borling, an F-4 pilot in the U.S. Air Force in the Vietnam War, created, memorized and later published poetry during his confinement at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” John McCain and Bill Lawrence, the prisoner in the next cell, recited and memorized Robert Service’s 1907 poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” using taps through the wall to share the poem, line by line. Even if none of my random recipients memorize a poem, there’s the possibility they will pin it on their refrigerator door with a magnet. They will poster-putty it to a bathroom mirror and read it; rather than scrutinizing their blemishes under magnification and the hostile light of fluorescence. A poem could provide an answer more developed than the options that float up from the Magic 8 Ball’s mysterious purple liquid. I have no idea what questions brew behind windows with shades lowered against the August sun. I have no scale to measure the degree of social isolation some occupants experience on a subzero night in February. Some days I imagine the poems carry enough force to muffle despair or delay the declaration of emotional bankruptcy. Without doubt many of the envelopes will be tossed in the rubbish unread and unopened. Some will be met with a sigh of disappointment—no cash or check from the Publishers Clearinghouse. A portion of the poems will be burned in the barrel—rhyming fragments will float like feathers in the ashes.


Preferential Mail

Mail that receives preferential handling in processing, dispatch and/or delivery.


       I do not know what Garrett was thinking, feeling or questioning the days, nights, and hours before he committed suicide. I can’t fully conceive of the grief his parents, siblings, and friends experience or which memories trigger an intensified suffering. There are several roadside shrines in the 30-mile loop I routinely cover. I tuck poems between the cross and the bouquet of plastic flowers. I place a poem under the large stone with the words “Faith, Hope, Love” etched onto pink-speckled granite. I skip boxes holding outgoing mail, their red flags raised. I realize there is no force field directing me toward which houses to repeat deliveries, which houses to pass by. I gravitate toward houses whose yards are infused with dandelions and creeping clover, clothes pegged to a mildewed line hanging between box elder trees. I bike miles training for an endurance race of unknown distance, comforted by the saying in the Talmud: “It is not incumbent on you to finish the task. Neither are you free to give it up.” I move through the days never fully knowing if the people I encounter are experiencing joy, equilibrium, or tipping toward anxiety. When Noah received the news about Garrett he was stunned, confused, and heavy with a guilt-tainted regret. If he had any premonition or indication that Garrett was suicidal he would have done anything to help him. I walk with some compulsion—counting poems and miles—chanting misremembered stanzas, attempting to disperse some balm for pain, some essential connection. Some days Tu Fu brooding on the uselessness of letters seems to contain far more wisdom than me. I think about lines from the poem—Tu Fu and Li Po talk to each other:

Why not sink poems to that ill-used

Ghost in the Mi-lo, talk things over?

or --How is it you've gotten so thin since we parted?

Must be all those poems you've been suffering over.


      Maybe I should spend my time scattering flower seeds or picking up ditch litter. Instead I disperse poems as gifts for no special occasion. I secretly place my parcels into plastic or metal boxes in an effort to staunch active bleeding or muffle some chronic condition.


* [65,000 in 1999 to 150,000 in 2017 to 187,000 in 2020]. (Washington, DC – May 24, 2022) – Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans in 2020, a 20 percent one year increase in the combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths ever recorded for a single year.

While alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths have been increasing for decades, the 2020 increase was unprecedented and driven by a 30 percent increase in the rate of drug-induced deaths and a 27 percent increase in the rate of alcohol-induced deaths. Combined rates of alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths increased in all 50 states except New Hampshire, and for the first time two states – West Virginia and New Mexico – surpassed 100 deaths per 100,000 state residents from alcohol, drugs, and suicide combined in a single year.


by Jenna Rindo

Alternate Delivery System

rindo photo.png
Jenna Rindo
Wisconsin, USA

Jenna Rindo worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse in hospitals in Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin and now teaches English to speakers of other languages. She lives in rural Wisconsin. Her poems and essays have been published in Prism Review, Natural Bridge, Tampa Review, Shenandoah, American Journal of Nursing, Bellingham Review and other journals. Her poem "Out of Wedlock" previously appeared in Mount Hope.

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