Sunday, December 21, 2014

Today's poem by Maxine Kumin

The Sunday Phone Call

Drab December, sleet falling.
Dogs loosely fisted in torpor. 
Horses nose-down in hay. 
It's the hour years ago
I used to call my parents 
or they'd call me.

The phone rings. Idly
empty of expectation 
I answer. It's my father's 
voice. Pop! I say, you're dead! 
Don't you remember 
that final heart attack, 
Dallas, just before 
Kennedy was shot?

Time means nothing here,
kiddo. He's jolly, expansive. 
You can wait eons for an open line.
Time gets used up but
comes back. You know.
Like Ping-Pong.

Ping-Pong! The table in 
the attic. My father, shirtsleeves 
rolled, the wet stub of 
a burnt-out cigarette
stuck to his lower lip as
he murdered each one
of my three older brothers 
and me yearning under the eaves, 
waiting for my turn. 

You sound ... just like yourself,
I say. I am myself, goddammit! 
Anyway, what's this
about an accident? 

How did you hear about it?
I read it somewhere. Broke 
your neck, et cetera. 
He says this vaguely, 
his shorthand way 
of keeping feelings at bay. 

You mean, you read my memoir?
Did you know you're in it?
Didn't read that part
No need to stir things up.

Now I'm indignant. 
But I almost died!

Didn't I tell you 
never buy land on a hill? 
It's worthless. What's 
an educated dame like you
doing messing with horses? 
Messing with horses is 
for punks. Then, a little 
softer, I see you two've 
put a lot of work into 
that hunk of real estate. 

Thanks. Thanks for even 
noticing. We love it here.
We'll never sell. 

Like hell you won't! 
You will! 

Pop, I say, tearing up, 
let's not fight for once. 
My only Poppa, when 
do I get to see you? 

A long pause. Then, 
coughing his cigarette cough,
Pupchen, he says,
I may be dead but 
I'm not clairvoyant. 
Behave yourself. 
The line clicks off.

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)

You may watch her reading this poem at 4:11.


  1. I'm printing this one, Nan. It knocked on my heart, remembering when I did get real calls from my parents, and planning to show it to my grown kids this Christmas. We've hit our 70s and if not then to sneak a few thoughts of their mom and dad into their own hearts, when?

    My kids will say that the author's father reminds them of someone.

    1. It feels like ancient days when people made those Sunday calls because the rates were lower.

  2. Wow - thank you for posting this. Now I'll be hunting for more of her work. This just hit me - this season of memories brings it all to the top, doesn't it? I too had a time for calling my parents - it was always my mother who answered every night. That little ritual for such a long time and then gone forever.
    Thanks again,

    1. If you go to Poems under the blog header picture, you'll find many of hers that I have posted over the years. I so love her work. It brings tears to my eyes what you wrote. 'then gone forever.'

  3. I remember that you introduced me to Maxine several years ago. I love her poetry. This one hits the mark too.

    1. It sure does. It pretty much says everything about their relationship, doesn't it.

  4. A lovely sort of pain in this poem - speaks to the wish people have for what they could have said, what they want to share and show loved ones who have passed away. It's only lovely because it's full of love. And I like that it isn't sentimental in a fake way - the conversation sounds real.

    I hope you're having a happy holiday season. Best wishes for the year to come too, to you and your family.

    1. It does sound real. like their relationship actually was - the good and the bad. Thank you for your wishes.


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