Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Sunday Phone Call

Drab December, sleet falling.
Dogs loosely fisted in torpor.
Horses nose-down in hay.
It’s the hour, years ago
I used to call my parents
or they’d call me.

The phone rings. Idly
empty of expectation
I answer. It’s my father’s
voice. Pop! I say, you’re dead!
Don’t you remember
that final heart attack
Dallas, just before
Kennedy was shot?

Time means nothing here,
He’s jolly, expansive.
You can wait eons for an open line.
Time gets used up but
comes back, you know.
Like Ping-Pong.

Ping-Pong! The table in
the attic. My father, shirtsleeves
rolled, the wet stub of
a burnt-out cigarette
stuck to his lower lip as
he murdered each one
of my three older brothers
and me yearning under the eaves
waiting for my turn.

You sound . . . just like yourself
I say. I am myself, godammit!
Anyway, what’s this
about an accident?

How did you hear about it?

I read it somewhere. Broke
your neck, etcetera.

He says this vaguely
his shorthand way
of keeping feelings at bay.

You mean you read
my memoir? Did
you know you’re in it?

Didn’t read that part. No
reason to stir things up.

Now I’m indignant.
But I almost died!

Didn’t I tell you
never buy land on a hill?
It’s worthless. What’s
an educated dame like you
doing messing with horses?
Messing with horses is
for punks.
(Then, a little
softer), I see you two’ve
put a lot of work into
that hunk of real estate.

Thanks. Thanks for even
noticing. We love it here.
We’ll never sell.

Like hell you won’t!
You will!

I say, tearing up,
let’s not fight for once.
My only Poppa, when
do I get to see you?

A long pause. Then
coughing his cigarette cough
Pupchen, he says
I may be dead but
I’m not clairvoyant.
Behave yourself.

The line clicks off.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin was Poet Laureate from 1981-82, and was Poet Laureate of the state of New Hampshire from 1989-94. The Monrovia Public Library has her books Up Country, Jack, Looking for Luck, The Nightmare Factory, and The Microscope.

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