Poem of the Month: Beige Wall Telephone, 1960s

Originally published by Asheville-based poet Michael McFee in his 2017 collection We Were Once Here, this piece is a poignant and hopeful rumination on wonder and nostalgia that feels appropriate to the oncoming spring season.
by Michael McFee

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 talked
and stretched by our efforts to sneak with the handset

away 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 room
and mumble dumb endearments to whichever lucky soul

we 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 body
moved 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 anchoring
left adolescent siblings open to each other’s mockery

and the cocked ears of nosy parents straining to decode
         one side of conversations as we curled closer
                 to the wall and whispered words downward
into the darkness that our huddling made, not pacing

like a barking dog chained to a stake in the backyard
        but trying our best to vanish, descending
               slow as a diver sipping words like oxygen
from a humming line whose other end kept us breathing.