The Eavesdropper, or What I Thought I Heard My Mother Talking About on the Phone, in Another Room, Thirty-Six Years Ago
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
Copyright © 2018 by Laura Kasischke
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.