September 15, 2011
Down the high traffic hall of university,
a heedless payphone rings
like a prisoner whistling in formation.
I know no one will answer it,
though it may have a calling
for each and any one of us.
Instead it rings on as if to say, “hey,
can you spare a some cents” to the pockets
who pass by, or, if feeling introspective,
“Change is the chisel with which we chase freedom.”
Right now nowhere near the city,
near signs that tell her not to pick up
hitchhikers, my mother is looking at Plexiglas
images of my brother as he looks back. Both
with big black receivers holding up their crack-of-dawn
heads, wearing happy-to-see-you smiles.
The phone—a sort of dysfunctional umbilical cord,
though the glass is so distorted
it is unclear who is being fed
this intravenous form of comfort.
A yard of pale linoleum separates the two
but what they hear sounds like it has been bounced
off several satellites
and their ears are chasing words
through an asteroid field of static.
This is a Friday—well spent.
When time is up, they part.
Maybe there’s a movie shot of empty phones
held to overflowing hearts,
of hands pretending to touch,
but they part, both in shackles.
His are made of arrogance, chain-links, and time.
Hers are made of his. Hers are made
of four hour drives every week in the desert;
of old age and forgetfulness;
of a handicap insignia
that hangs from her rearview mirror,
whenever she remembers to bring it.
Hers are made of waiting.
As he lines up with the other orange cell-mates
of self-defeat, ready to take on day number
nine hundred, forty…whatever, with clenched fists,
I want to believe I can hear his soul scream
like a stranded, roadside payphone
wringing the world for an answer.