A Voice on an Answering Machine
I can’t erase her voice. If I opened the door to the cage & tossed the magpie into the air, a part of me would fly away, leaving only the memory of a plucked string trembling in the night. The voice unwinds breath, soldered wires, chance, loss, & digitized impulse. She’s telling me how light pushed darkness till her father stood at the bedroom door dressed in a white tunic. Sometimes we all wish we could put words back into our mouths.
I have a plant of hers that has died many times, only to be revived with less water & more light, always reminding me of the voice caught inside the little black machine. She lives between the Vale of Kashmir & nirvana, beneath a bipolar sky. The voice speaks of an atlas & a mask, a map of Punjab, an ugly scar from college days on her abdomen, the unsaid credo, but I can’t make the voice say, Look, I’m sorry, I’ve been dead for a long time.
—Yusef Komunyakaa, from The American Poetry Review, in The Best American Poetry 2011