Issue 391 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I was moved by the harsh and tender imagery in Ann Humphreys’ poem “The Parrothawk Dream” [April 2008]. After my third reading of it, I wept, and my standoffish but affectionate cat Queen came to check on me. She had a concerned look and made a muffled mrowph sound, as she might to a kitten. Then she sat by me, gently purring, until I recovered my composure.

Thanks to Humphreys’ poem and Derrick Jensen’s November 2007 essay on zoos [“Thought to Exist in the Wild”] — and the heart-wrenching photos by Karen Tweedy-Holmes that accompanied it — I am reminded of the wonderful, mysterious relationship we have with animals, and of our responsibility to them.

Judy Ogden South Lake Tahoe, California

Your interviews with Connie Rice [“Both Sides of the Street,” by Diane Lefer, April 2008] and Van Jones [“Bridging the Green Divide,” by David Kupfer, March 2008] both conjured in me the same reverie: Imagine this person sitting in Congress — or the White House!

Both also spoke eloquently to the conundrum expressed in the April 2008 Correspondence: Is it possible to overcome the politics of hatred with strategies inspired by love?

Rice and Jones are tough fighters for justice and equality, but they don’t fight hatred with hatred. Rice learned to empathize with both violent criminals and the Los Angeles Police Department while condoning the actions of neither, and she helped prevent a war between cops and gangs. Jones appealed to white upper-middle-class environmentalists — a group he might have dismissed as an elitist “other” — to get behind his Green Jobs program, and he got a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rice and Jones remind us that compassion, coupled with dedication and a sense of humor, can be the most pragmatic political tool of all.

Sarah Rabkin Soquel, California

Lately I’ve been paralyzed by depression about the climate crisis and hatred for President Bush’s cruel policies. Rather than work on a solution, though, I’ve paced the floor worrying about my toddlers’ future. Van Jones’s dead-on commentary about our country’s downward spiral snapped me out of my inaction and fear. He has inspired me to stop whining and start moving.

Holly Werth Sun Valley, Idaho

I was pleased to read the views of Van Jones, an environmental activist who’s sensitive to the perspective of the lower class. In past issues of The Sun, I’ve found that suggestions made by environmentalists are unrealistic for low-wage earners. Activists seem to assume that everyone is young and single, and lives in California. You cannot transport kids and groceries on a bicycle in a snowstorm in Canada; nor can you find public transportation.

Environmentalists often tell us we will have to learn to live with less, but it’s obvious that if you have a certain income level, you can still afford luxuries. Van Jones’s call for a national effort, such as our country mounted during World War II, is different: conservation during wartime was achieved by rationing, not market forces, and the burden was shared by all.

Our economy, based on mass consumption and fossil fuels, was built on the backs of average workers. The bill for fixing it should not be sent to them as well.

Diane Glasby Tehkummah, Ontario

Poe Ballantine’s essay “Confessions of a B-Movie Zombie” [March 2008] is not a tale of someone broken; it’s a tale of someone who seems oddly proud of his inability to grow up.

I don’t have time to waste on the ramblings of a middle-aged adolescent who develops an inappropriate friendship with a young girl. From the beginning, it is nothing but sexual to Ballantine. Does he once say to her, “I don’t think it’s wise for you to tell me about your sexual escapades”? No. Does he once say, “I sure would like to screw you”? No. That would be too honest. Instead he gives her wine and jumps into bed with her. When she lets him know she is not attracted to him and asks him just to lie with her awhile, he bails. What a champ.

Judy Brezina Carlton, Washington

“Confessions of a B-Movie Zombie” confirms my belief that Poe Ballantine’s work should be regarded as on a par with the best of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. The mysterious Aspen — unattainable, kooky, and ineffably beautiful — is a girl-woman all men have met at one time or another. Who among us has not suffered those sharp pangs of longing and disappointment?

Patrick Dowling Felton, California

In the March Correspondence, Stephen Adams writes that The Sun has become “boring, predictable, and monotonous.” He laments the lack of diversity and the continued publication of certain writers. I have been a subscriber for about ten years, and these letters are nothing new to me, but I felt compelled to respond to this one.

My younger brother Donnie passed away this year. He was forty-four. A week or so after the funeral, I read the March 2008 Sun. The Sunbeams, the Readers Write on “The Last Time,” and Michele Herman’s essay “A Mitzvah in Paramus” (about burying her stepfather) helped me feel more at peace with my brother’s passing. And unlike Adams, I always enjoy hearing from Poe Ballantine, Alison Luterman, and Michelle Cacho-Negrete.

As an African American woman, I admit I would enjoy reading more-diverse perspectives, but ultimately the truths in The Sun are universal. In our grief, does it really matter that Herman’s stepfather was an old Jewish man and my brother was a young African American?

Terry Dingle Willingboro, New Jersey

I want to thank Courtney E. Martin [“The Jar of Coins,” March 2008] for speaking my heart and surely the hearts of many others in our generation who recognize how much we have been blessed — with multivitamins and gifted-and-talented programs, yes, but also with the yearning for a better world. We struggle under the weight of our world-saving inclinations, but our struggles are nothing compared to the injustices and hardships that others face.

Here’s to continuing to explore those “multiple truths” Martin writes about. May we be endowed with not just awareness but the courage to act. And may we continue to discover that how we live matters — to our friends, our communities, and our global neighbors.

Natalie Eisenbarth Washington, D.C.

After a long, hard night in the sweat lodge and before I started a thirteen-hour workday, I let myself have a moment to enjoy The Sun — and received a slap in the face. In his essay “Before She Sends It” [December 2007] Sy Safransky comments on the quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl that serves as The Sun’s motto: “What is to give light must endure burning.” This quote has always spoken to me, never more so than that morning, after a night during which I’d hauled thirty stones for a grueling three-hour sweat. But then Safransky writes, “I doubt that those words would mean much to me if they’d been written by a young poet who’d just returned from a weekend vision quest.”

Why would that have invalidated those words? What’s wrong with young poets and “weekend” vision questers?

After a childhood filled with murder and suicide and an adulthood spent struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, I have worked hard to find a spiritual path with meaning and heart. The fear that others will judge my path harshly has led me to keep it private. To have it sneered at in what I had thought was a like-minded magazine was shocking and disappointing.

My first thought was to drop the magazine in the trash, cancel my subscription, and then kill myself and have my headstone read, “Sneered at by Sy Safransky.” Consider the first two actions done and the third as my attempt to laugh at the situation.

Jennifer Carroll Seattle, Washington

In his “Friend of The Sun” letter published in March 2008, Sy Safransky wrote about a recent dilemma The Sun had faced: We mistakenly left an author’s name on a Readers Write submission, even though he, a death-row inmate, had asked to remain anonymous because he feared reprisal from prison-gang members. The error wasn’t caught until after all eighty thousand copies of the issue had been printed and were waiting to be shipped. To avoid putting the prisoner at risk, we recycled the magazines and reprinted the issue. Recently we received the following letter from the prisoner involved.


I was shocked when I came across your “Friend of The Sun” letter and read of the difficulties and expense you had to suffer to take my name off my Readers Write submission. I thank you for that. I feel terrible that you had to cancel the entire print run, but I am grateful, as having my name published would have put me in a very bad situation and possibly triggered some undesired attention.

You visualized me perfectly, Mr. Safransky: flipping through The Sun with my breath held, then breathing a sigh of relief when I saw my piece signed “Name Withheld.” I hadn’t the slightest clue what you’d gone through to make that happen. I understand how you must have struggled with the decision, and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of flak for doing what you did. Your words and kindness brought tears to my eyes.

I’ve asked my mom to donate some money to you to make up in some small way for the financial loss you had to take. I’m also sending a little bit from my trust account. It’s not much, but it’s a lot for me.

Thank you for allowing prisoners to share our experiences with the outside world, which I will never get to be a part of again, except through the written word. And thank you for caring about me. If not for your actions, I would have faced some coldblooded murderer trying to “make his bones.” I will never forget what you’ve done.

Name Withheld
Free Trial Issue Are you ready for a closer look at The Sun?

Request a free trial, and we’ll mail you a print copy of this month’s issue. Plus you’ll get full online access — including 50 years of archives.
Request A Free Issue