Poetry Month: A Voice on an Answering Machine (Komunyakaa)

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


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