Janet Ruth Heller



When I was in grad school
and lived in Chicago,
I ordered two paperbacks
from a California press.
I waited many weeks
for them to arrive.
One day, I opened my apartment door
and found the two tomes
unwrapped and stacked neatly in the hall.
Someone had taken my package,
perhaps expecting jewelry,
and saw the books as trash.
I gathered in the outcasts:
a thin volume of Sappho’s lyrics
and translations of poems
by the French Symbolists.
In my eyes, the pages glowed
like emeralds.


Several years later,
I moved to another apartment
four blocks away.
I was teaching, publishing poems,
and editing a little magazine.
Without warning, a pile
of ten literary journals
appeared outside my door:
issues of DecemberConsumption,
and the Chicago Review
dating back to my childhood.
In one magazine, I read
poems by William Carlos Williams;
reviews of books by John Barth,
Carl Jung, Boris Pasternak,
and Jack Kerouac—
all published in 1958.
The male editors included
only one woman,
an artist named Carol Harrison
who trained at Cranbrook.
I could find no notes
or traces to identify the donor.
Was this gift from a professor
or old boyfriend?
Few people knew that I was a writer.


I never learned
who raided my mail
or who left those journals for me.
Five decades later,
I still have the volumes
on a shelf in my home.
Will I ever solve these mysteries?

Janet Ruth Heller is president of the Michigan College English Association.  She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago.  She has published four poetry books:  Nature’s Olympics (Wipf and Stock, 2021), Exodus (WordTech, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora, 2012), Traffic Stop (Finishing Line, 2011); a scholarly book, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990); a middle-grade chapter book, The Passover Surprise (Fictive, 2016); and a fiction picture book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 6th edition 2018), that has won four national awards.  https://www.janetruthheller.com