Long Distance: England
— for Alexander Graham Bell
Somewhere along the line
hail strikes the wire
that holds your voice,
and that wire,
slung between two poles,
sways in the wind.
I think of the men who stood in a steel bucket or climbed those poles.
I think of the poles themselves,
stripped of leaves, standing among live trees
smelling of sap and chlorophyll:
spike after spike stuck in the wood
and still its cells remember the breeze,
though bolted and coated with creosote.
Bell is in this call, too:
his patience during the day,
trying one magnetic strip after another;
his doubt at night,
looking at the moon through a window,
inhaling the smell of dusty curtains.
Somewhere back there in the forties
is a bored woman wearing a hairnet in a radio-transmitter factory,
her blouse stained with crescents of sweat
as she places knob after knob on a conveyor belt.
This copper was dug from the ground, from the bald scrape
of an open-pit mine, a hill turned to powder,
and so in this call are the miners and smelters,
the odor of packed ore dumped on a truck.
While I’m telling you how much I miss you,
a red-winged blackbird, his talons wrapped around my voice,
is picking off bird lice — he shrugs, and his wings blaze.
While you tell me how much you miss me,
a rough-legged hawk clasps the wire —
feathers lift on his thighs
as he tears off a gopher haunch, and stops and eats, and tears again.
Our voices course through hundreds of talons
before they plunge into the ocean, where fish hang above your name
or bump the cable, and kelp loops ropes around my questions, your answers:
spliced together as we are
so I can speak to you; so you can speak to me.
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