Beige Wall Telephone, 1960s
To you who have never known what it is to be tethered to the family's one phone by a corkscrew cord filthied by idle fingers twisting it as we talkedand stretched by our efforts to sneak with the handsetaway from the dining room where that cheap plastic box clung to the wall, my sister and I desperate to hide behind curtains or in a nearby roomand mumble dumb endearments to whichever lucky soulwe had a crush on that week: I won't say how wonderful it felt to hear a call's unexpected tremolo and rush to answer that sudden summons,lifting the receiver's heavy curve out of its metal hook,or to dial seven numbers on a whirring analog wheel and hear a distant ringing pulse in the ear, knowing that actual bells trilled as a bodymoved through space to deliver its hopeful Hello?—no, it was awful, that phone, intended for businesses, brisk standing exchanges of information, not a home where its too-public anchoringleft adolescent siblings open to each other's mockeryand the cocked ears of nosy parents straining to decode one side of conversations as we curled closer to the wall and whispered words downwardinto the darkness that our huddling made, not pacinglike a barking dog chained to a stake in the backyard but trying our best to vanish, descending slow as a diver sipping words like oxygenfrom a humming line whose other end kept us breathing.
Copyright © 2017 by Michael McFee
Originally published in WE WERE ONCE HERE
Carnegie Mellon University Press
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
A native of Asheville, Michael McFee has taught in the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill since 1990. He is the author of eleven books of poetry—including five published by Carnegie Mellon University Press: We Were Once Here, That Was Oasis, Shinemaster, Earthly, and Colander—and two collections of essays, Appointed Rounds: Essays (Mercer University Press) and The Napkin Manuscripts: Selected Essays and an Interview (University of Tennessee Press). He has received the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South, from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award from the Western North Carolina Historical Association.
Southern Poetry Review is the second oldest poetry journal in the region, with its origins in Florida and subsequent moves to North Carolina and now Georgia. Continuing the tradition of editorial openness and response to writers that began with Guy Owen in 1958, SPR publishes poems from all over the country as well as from abroad and maintains a worldwide readership. Past issues feature work from Chana Bloch, Billy Collins, Alice Friman, David Hernandez, Andrew Hudgins, Maxine Kumin, Heather McHugh, Sue William Silverman, R. T. Smith, Eric Trethewey, and Cecilia Woloch.