Abigail Smith answers a letter from John Adams in which he sends her a list
of her imperfections, defects and faults.
There are frogs mating in the pond tonight.
I hear their love songs and I think of you.
All day I have been trying to write
an answer to your letter. Just a few
words to thank you for your kind list; your true
and detailed catalogue of all my
defects and faults. You wait for my reply.
This morning I woke early to sit by
my window. There were crows flying low
over the spring meadows. Dearest friend, I
had such a joyful heart and such a flow
of spirits. I thought both would break and flow
into my pen. But such was not to be.
I could not concentrate or think of me.
Instead I tarried in my chamber all
day. I made up my brass bed with the sun-
flower quilt. I put on my cashmere shawl
with palm-leaf border and hoped someone
would call. No one did, so I folded some
clover and lavender with their sweet scent
into my bureau drawers. Now this day is spent.
The twilight deepens from the nearby
pond, the wild cry of a loon disturbs the night.
Forthright, I take my pen in hand and greet
you. “My friend, I read your letter with quite
a bit of pleasure. Intact, as one might
read of his perfections, I read of my
imperfections. Please excuse me if I
still persist in some of them. I agree-
neglect of singing is a fault but I
have a voice as harsh as the screech of a peacock.
You should not complain again of my
not singing. Next thing, you tell me that I
hang my head like a bulrush-that I do
not sit erect-that this makes me seem too
short for my beauty. This fault will be rectified.
My ambition is in every way
to appear agreeable in your eyes.
Still another fault you find which you say
is inexcusable. You express dismay
that I read and think too much. You tell me
to repent-that these things ought not to be.
You say I ruin my-figure when 1
sit with my legs crossed. I will amend
this fault. Since you wish it, I will comply.
For my part, I do not apprehend
any bad effects, but this practice will end.
As for the legs of ladies-'' I find I
cannot concentrate. I don't know why.
I watch the fireflies drifting in the night.
In the meadow, a wingless female glows,
till a male, falling toward her pale light
finds her in the dark. The fire burns low
and the lamplight flickers. Parrot-toed,
you call me. I do not possess, you say,
a stately strut because of my way
of walking with my toes bent inward. I
know this fault of mine has only one cure
and that is dancing school. But before my
room grows cold, I must continue with your
list of by faults. Then I remember your
other letters. In this still room I hear
our words, “Miss Adorable'' and “My Dear.''
All this day I have been trying to write
my reply to your kind letter. My head
has been filled with my faults and defects, like
how I cross my legs, how I hang my head.
Now “Miss Adorable'' is going to bed.
Under my sunflower quilt, all night long
I’ll hear the mating frogs sing in the pond.