Monday, June 20, 2011


A Phone Call To Nowhere

Why there?

Why was it placed there
and for what purpose -- assuming
ever there was a purpose?

All recollection
is now faded,
gone with those who've died or moved on,

carried away by a Mojave wind,

leaving only stainless steel,
wire and molded plastic
to mummify
beneath a thirsty desert sun.

And so,
the telephone booth stands --
its glass shot out --
beneath a lone, tar-covered pole.

A thin black wire
playing out from booth to pole,
from pole to pole to pole,
stretching across desert,

a tenuous string of connectivity
reaching toward a switching station,
and then

on into civilization.

Yes, i placed a call,
a call from this somewhere,
a call to that desolate elsewhere,
a call to a string of integers
in whose combination,

in whose additions and subtractions,
lurks the premonition of something,
something upon which
i cannot quite place my finger.

Then, there is only the ringing.

Somewhere out there,
out there in the middle
of a vacant Mojave relief,

a tinkle of loose change in a pocket
gives pause to the moaning desert wind,

a bell above a shop door clears its throat
over the rustle of rare vegetation,
above the scurrying of the scorpions' claws.

Again and again and again
it rings, second after second,
minute following hard upon minute...

He said that God had told him to come,
to come answer the calls.

Was it in a vision or a dream?
A voice from the heavens or a telegram?
Just how had God made his wishes known?

"Jumbled letters," said he,
letters jumbled on the pages
of a newspaper delivered
to a suburban doorstep.

"Go and live
the telephone booth,"
the words had told him -- or so
he said...
to me...
from the other end of the line,
"Go and live" alongside a receiver
waiting beneath a pine-tarred pole,
whose purpose no longer seems to matter,
whose purpose, attached to a wire,
runs away into desert starry skies.

Not a soul now lives
beside that road,

a road that roars out of nowhere,

a road that passes by a phone booth
on its way to God-only-knows-where.

Not a soul lives by that road,

least not for miles and miles --
and almost never the stomach grumble
of automobile tires
careening down its path
to leave a sheen of dust.

And so he went,
at God's request,
to live beside a phone booth
in the deep desert,

a phone booth
with its windows shot out,

to sleep in a sleeping bag
in back of an old truck,

to answer the calls.
And call they did --
from China and Australia,
from Seattle and Kansas City.
An L.A. housewife asking him to relate
all that he could see;
a reverend from Saskatchewan
claiming to have dialed a wrong number;
the pidgin English of a Puerto Rican carwash attendant
who found the number scrawled
on a bathroom wall...

They came in the middle of the night,
early in the day,
at lunch and dinner,
while he was taking a leak.

Calls and more calls,
voices wanting to speak --
ten, then twenty then five hundred.

He kept a notebook of them all,
people pressing mystical buttons
from half a world away,
people pressing buttons
to connect them to God's answering machine
out in the Mojave desert.

Why did they call?
What did they hope to find?

Why the sudden taste for a stranger's voice,
sleepy-stiff from waking in the bed of a truck
on a black desert night --

an errand boy sent from Got
to answer their calls?

Could the answer be,
in the answering,
that tsunami surprise of something
where nothing should be,

an answer when one expects only ringing?

(Author's note: the phone booth
was eventually removed due
to the sheer volume of individuals calling...

-Will Leathem

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