The Eavesdropper, or What I Thought I Heard My Mother Talking About on the Phone, in Another Room, Thirty-Six Years Ago

Laura Kasischke

I still keep it hidden in the jar of  saltwater you gave me     don’t worry, no one can hear me, my husband’s in the bathroom & my daughter’s in her bedroom wearing those headphones made of sponges on her ears

yes, I’ve kept it all these years, and kept it hidden, but — I have to tell you something:

something about it has changed

recently     has changed     since the last time we talked     the shell has opened, and —

calm down      please      I’m about to tell you     I’ve waited years to tell you     how?     how could I have called you?     I don’t know where you live: I don’t even know your name!

so     I’m telling you now: the gluey seam that held it closed     at some point it began to dissolve     I don’t know     around Christmastime, I suppose     but it was gradual     subtle     not something easily seen through water, through glass so perhaps it started earlier than that, but that’s when I first noticed —

(of course it’s still alive     I know because I know)

so     after the seal first began to loosen, things accelerated after that     and I could see inside of  it     and what I saw was a tongue     but very pale     the tongue was white, in fact, and thin as a strip of paper     also smooth     no bumps or grooves     but there was no doubt: this was a tongue

I’m sorry    I used the past tense only so that you might understand how it appeared to me when it was new and strange     to describe to you what I saw then     not because it’s changed     because it hasn’t      except in its familiarity

I spend an hour with it every morning      and if the weather’s mild, after they’ve gone to bed, I take it out at night, lie on my back in the grass, hold the jar on my chest, and together we watch the metallic flower petals spin at each other in that dangerous memory of  heaven, or the past    please     don’t cry no one’s to blame     and nothing’s ruined, nothing’s wrong      there’s no discomfort      there seems to be no pain     there’s only time, letting something looser     and I’ve made the preparations     it will die when I die

no, she isn’t listening    and if  she is     well, then the eavesdropper’s punishment is hers      she can’t be spared      all her life spent holding her breath    only to hear     the sound absorbed by moss stuffed into the ears of  a stillborn kitten      all her life     over and over again at the kitchen table     playing the tapes of a conversation she recorded with a microphone slipped into a coffin thirty-six years ago     finding no meaning in those     and searching for the jar in which she’s certain it still floats      the tongue of  her mother’s ghost

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Laura Kasischke has published ten collections of poetry, most recently Where Now: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), and also nine novels. She teaches at the University of Michigan.



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