“Drive now, talk later.”
I know the fear of a ringing telephone,
the late night rattle of nerves, the second ring,
the third ring silenced halfway though. The news
that comes at this late hour is never good.
I know, too the fear of cellular—
promise of brain rot, loss of personal space
and private time. But also the lure: instant connect,
limitless air time, tuned into the chattering radio
of the world. Or, stranded on a dark road,
the tense moments before acquiring the signal,
the relief when a call to Triple-A goes through.
From one flight, passengers called 911,
or called the FBI, their families,
to whisper plots and tearful last endearments
before some stormed the plane and brought it down.
Later, from the Towers’ rubble, from the deep
pockets of space where some may still hang on,
from dark and smoke and unimaginable time,
some dial the numbers of their homes
or offices on cell phones barely able
to snatch a signal from the acrid air.
Lithium batteries quiver on the edge,
knit a net just strong enough to bear
the distant, crackling voices of the nearly dead
who call to say—who knows—some final words
into the ear of one who answers.
And—here’s the thing—some dial one digit wrong,
and so, instead of family, find themselves
connected to a stranger. Be that stranger.
Go like this: silence a late-night ring
halfway through. Be startled, be afraid—
the last time you answered a call this late
it was news of your father’s death, or someone’s
desperate need of you. Still. Answer.
Say hello and maybe realize what’s happening,
and listen, and be who they need you to be—
parent, lover, confessor—and say yes, yes,
and listen more, until the signal’s breath
goes shallow with static, and grant all
wishes, and swear to yourself you will remember,
you will not wrap this memory in the flag,
and do what you can, not only in this moment,
but six years from now when you have
no particular tragedy to trick you into kindness.
Hold tight to the receiver, to the voice,
to your own voice, and say yes, and say
I promise, and say goodbye.