Tuesday Poem

Rotary by Christina Pugh

Closer to a bell than a bird,
that clapper ringing
the clear name
of its inventor:

by turns louder
and quieter than a clock,
its numbered face
was more literate,

triplets of alphabet
like grace notes
above each digit.

And when you dialed,
each number was a shallow hole
your finger dragged
to the silver
comma-boundary,

then the sound of the hole
traveling back
to its proper place
on the circle.

You had to wait for its return.
You had to wait.
Even if you were angry
and your finger flew,

you had to await
the round trip
of seven holes
before you could speak.

The rotary was weird for lag,
for the afterthought.

Before the touch-tone,
before the speed-dial,
before the primal grip
of the cellular,

they built glass houses
around telephones:
glass houses in parking lots,
by the roadside,
on sidewalks.

When you stepped in
and closed the door,
transparency hugged you,
and you could almost see

your own lips move,
the dumb-show
of your new secrecy.

Why did no one think
to conserve the peal?

Just try once
to sing it to yourself:
it’s gone,

like the sound of breath
if your body left.

from Poetry 180

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