Iowa Writes

CARL KLAUS
from Letters to Kate: Life After Life


Wednesday, December 18

Dear Kate,

Ever since you died, I’ve been getting more and more uneasy about the things of yours that have come into my hands. Please notice that I’ve deliberately avoided the word “possession,” for though I’ve inherited all your stuff—clothes, jewelry, paintings, quilts, stocks, books, bookcases, and so on—I don’t feel as if they’re mine, don’t feel anything like ownership. How could I possibly own things so distinctively yours, like your shell collection, things you acquired over a lifetime of being who you are. Worse still, how can I lay claim to stuff you inherited from your parents and grandparents. I felt that quite keenly this afternoon when I went to the corner cupboard to get a wine glass for dinner, and there on the top shelf right above our clear glass goblets were the amber goblets, cups, fruit cups, saucers, and dessert plates from your grandmother Orlie—she of the Victorian migraines and morals, whose faded world of white gloves and drawn curtains was so distant from mine it seems outlandish that her goblets should be cohabiting with mine.

Wednesday, December 18

Dear Kate,

Ever since you died, I’ve been getting more and more uneasy about the things of yours that have come into my hands. Please notice that I’ve deliberately avoided the word “possession,” for though I’ve inherited all your stuff—clothes, jewelry, paintings, quilts, stocks, books, bookcases, and so on—I don’t feel as if they’re mine, don’t feel anything like ownership. How could I possibly own things so distinctively yours, like your shell collection, things you acquired over a lifetime of being who you are. Worse still, how can I lay claim to stuff you inherited from your parents and grandparents. I felt that quite keenly this afternoon when I went to the corner cupboard to get a wine glass for dinner, and there on the top shelf right above our clear glass goblets were the amber goblets, cups, fruit cups, saucers, and dessert plates from your grandmother Orlie—she of the Victorian migraines and morals, whose faded world of white gloves and drawn curtains was so distant from mine it seems outlandish that her goblets should be cohabiting with mine. And I’m sure she would feel the same way, thank you. But it’s not just a matter of profound cultural and personal difference that makes me uneasy. No, there’s also something deeply existential that’s at stake. And the only way I can suggest the problem is to say that I don’t even feel as if I own the things that are purportedly mine. I imagine you looking quizzically at me right now, as if to ask what could possibly account for such a kooky feeling. And I don’t know how to explain it except to say that the survival of all your things in the wake of your death—you gone, they still here, vividly here—has led me to realize that our so-called possessions have an independence of sorts, a life of their own, a durability greater than ours that makes it preposterous to think we could ever own them. At most, I’m now inclined to believe that we coexist for awhile, that they pass through our hands, or we through theirs in the case of things like the house, which might outlast us both for hundreds of years. That being the case, it seems more accurate to think of myself as a steward rather than an owner, just looking after things, taking care of them awhile as best I can, hoping I might find them a good home before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Possession, after all, is only nine-tenths of the law.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


CARL KLAUS

Carl Klaus, founding director of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and professor emeritus of English at the University of Iowa, wrote  Letters to Kate: Life After Life (Iowa, 2006) during the first year after the death of his wife, Kate Franks Klaus.

Established in 1938 and housed in the historic Kuhl House, the oldest house still standing in Iowa City, the University of Iowa Press publishes scholarly books and a wide variety of titles that will appeal to general readers. As the only university press in the state, it is dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the region.

University of Iowa Press

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on December 20, 2006

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