The Phone

Chad Abushanab

There are things you can't learn over the phone,like how each day your mother's losing weight.Her hug has turned to a burlap sack of bones.You imagine it sharp and cold. Her heart beatsjaggedly. There's dark beneath her eyes.You know she cooks herself three meals a day,but over the phone you cannot see what liesbehind her silence: she throws the food away.She yawns and says she is a little tired,while exhaustion settles ashen on her face.You can't see how the neatness you admired—the dishes clean, everything in its place—has disappeared. The kitchen's out of order.She doesn't make her bed. Her clothes smell bad.And you keep moving further, moving forward(after Dad left, you thought she'd drive you mad):first Tennessee, then Arkansas, now Texas.She's back home in the Carolina foothillswhile the tumor near her cardiac plexusgrows. You can't see her refuse the pills,but you hear it in each hesitation, in everysick quiet hanging on the line.So when she says she's "feeling better, very,"it sends the worry ringing up your spine.After the dial tone dies away,you stand in the sunlight of your own kitchen.You know she's dying, that she'll never say.You know you will never be forgiven.

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Chad Abushanab’s debut collection is The Last Visit, which was selected by Jericho Brown as the winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The New York Times MagazineThe BelieverBest New PoetsVerse Dailyecotone, Southern Poetry Review, Measure: A Journal of Formal PoetryShenandoahThe Hopkins Review, and 32 Poems, among others. He earned his Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Read more at

"I really cannot say in these few words all that there is to love about Chad Abushanab’s The Last Visit. This book is moving and most memorable because of Abushanab’s series of light touches. But these touches never fail at amounting to a piercing lyric sting: ‘I want the DNA for empty bottles. / I need to know what made your cruelties grow / unwieldy, like cancers let loose upon a body.’ And his talent is made all the more thrilling by his skill with and useful subversion of form; I could say much more about the speaker’s search for self and struggles with drink after surviving a childhood laden with domestic violence, about how form in these poems is not an opportunity to flex but, instead, a consequence of Abushanab’s need to set things right. But it’s best if I just say that I really do believe in this book and find it extraordinary as an early twenty-first century debut."
—Jericho Brown

"Chad Abushanab’s The Last Visit is one of the most captivating books of poetry I’ve read in years. It’s almost shocking that it’s his debut. This collection presents an elegy for a family’s pain and the remains still bruised in the present. The poems are vulnerable as they center on the tragic body. Still, the speaker never cowers from his story, bringing it to light with such authority and courage. Calling The Last Visit brave simply isn’t enough. This book has guts."
—Erica Dawson

"Chad Abushanab’s first full-length collection shows his formidable skills as a writer of traditional verse and the power of form to transform even the most intractable material. The subject of The Last Visit is the bleak legacy of, as the poet tells us, ‘violence and the body.’ He takes us on an unflinching tour of abuse, alcoholism, murder, and suicide, the chapter headings of contemporary American society. There are few survivors in this world and no forgetting what we have experienced. Or as the poet says with chilling poise, ‘Though you’ve escaped, you cannot help but know.’ I am glad to know Chad Abushanab’s poetry and expect that this moving, troubling, and superbly written volume will not be his last."
—Mark Jarman

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