22 pages • 44 minutes readMartha Collins
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The words of this poem belong to the phone company, not the poet, because they come from the intercept messages that play when the speaker dials her dead husband’s cellphone and landline. These automated messages are the opposite of what a reader might expect from a poem about the loss of the poet’s husband—they are not personal and emotional; to the contrary, they are generic and emotionless. Nonetheless, there is a strong identification between the phone company’s pre-recorded messages and the speaker that begins on the first line and never lets up.
The opening two lines read: “The person you are trying / is not accepting. Is not” (Lines 1-2). On a literal level, this opening comes from the intercept message, but it is also very true of the speaker—the speaker is trying to accept her husband’s death, but is not accepting it; and the fact that she calls his phone numbers (even though she knows they are no longer in service) is an indication that she has not come to terms with her loss. The speaker is in denial about her husband’s death, but her husband is still dead, “[i]s not / at this time” (Lines 2-3).
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The third and fourth line turn the bland formality of the phone company’s message into a plea for the husband’s continued existence: “Please / again.