Found in a Letter 1959: A Memoir in Poems

Sharon Cumberland

Sharon Cumberland uses letters written by her father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, while he was a Sloan Fellow at M.I.T. to construct poems in his voice as he reviews the course of his life, his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and his relationships with his family members.

From Found in a Letter, 1959: A Memoir in Poems

On Patrol
January 5, 1959

It is very cold here with a strong wind blowing.
The policeman on Sharon’s patrol post lets her warm up
in his car and even drove her home both times today.
Sharon likes being a patrol so much she gets up
at five in the morning and makes her own
breakfast, puts on two sweaters under her coat
and stands on her post for an hour before anyone
comes. No wonder the officer takes pity on her—
she’s got blue lips by the time he gets there.
Her teacher made her the only girl on patrol when a boy
in her class kept sleeping in, so she may be afraid
the same thing will happen to her, even though I promised
to get her up in time. Ree worries, imagines she’s too
motivated by honor or anxiety—but I say leave her alone.
Sharon’s a Navy brat. She hears the call, salutes, and does her duty.


“Brava, Sharon Cumberland, for Found in a Letter, 1959, an original and inventive collection based on a trove of her father’s actual letters that chronicle the family’s life stories from her Dad’s military service and beyond. With wit and resourcefulness, Cumberland has found a worthy voice to inhabit in her father’s often eloquent letters to his dying father, revealing a plethora of evocative, midcentury markers: slide rules, Martini parties with pigs in a blanket, measles, lipstick Shalimar! These poems are a witness to history—her own as well as midcentury America’s. This book is nothing short of marvelous.”

Nancy Schoenberger

Author of The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters

About the Author

Sharon Cumberland

Sharon Cumberland is a prize-winning poet and Professor Emerita at Seattle University where she taught American Literature, poetry, and creative writing. She is the founding member of the Greenwood Poets in Seattle, and the author of four previous poetry collections.