Phone Call

Phone Call

Phone Call

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 5 2000 11:30 PM

Phone Call

The mangled speech, aphasic
pratfalls halfway through the
sentences, the voice
weak, tremulous, taken
by suffering so far
beyond what it once was
it's already otherworldly—
Heracles borne on his litter.


You can't imagine it.

Can't eat, can't drink, can't do a
thing except just lie
in bed before the TV
he's too sick to watch,
one ulcer running down
all the way from lip
to anus like a shirt
of fire burning inside out.

You can't know what it's like.

And even Ellen, sweet Ellen:
her transcendent body just
a torment to him now—
an unignorable
reminder of what he can't
be for her, won't ever be
again, though someone will.
Shirt of fire underneath the skin.

You can't imagine it at all.

What he wants to tell his children
when they call is don't,
you no longer have a father.
The slow annihilation
itself, each agonizing
moment of it now
an eternal labor—
alone on a high crag.

You can't. Don't even try to.


Alan Shapiro will publish two books in 2011: Night of the Republic, a book of poems, and Broadway Baby, a novel. His last book of poems, Old War, won the 2009 Ambassador Book Award in poetry.