S T O R I E S   I N   T H E   T I M E   O F   A   P A N D E M I C

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M A T H E W     P A U S T

 

 

What is the frequency, Kenneth?
Yes, he knew they were coming,
Dan Rather did,
these loopy, social-distance days.

Last night, for instance, or in the early morning,
I thought at first a dream, except
the voice seemed too real, so
I rolled out of bed to be sure–

oh, the hell it was,
it was to go pee, and when I got back to bed
I’d forgotten the voice, as
I seem to remember.

Next time I woke I looked at the clock,
its neon red digital numerals warning me
it was 4 something, 4:47, possibly,
when my walking buddy texted me,

and while my pupils adjusted in the dark
to read her message, I heard the voice outside
still talking as I’d remembered it
at least an hour before.

I’d thought at first it was the skateboarders,
three or four hardy youngsters
who hang out in the Post Office parking lot
out my bedroom window, which offers

a clear vista for me in the daytime,
but only highlights at night from moonbeams
and a couple of utility poles
and from the mail dock across the way.

I did not bother to open the blinds,
thinking the kids would be in shadows.
taking a break—come to think of it,
I had not heard the scrape and roll

of their boards as they practice to become
the next Tony Hawk. Come to think of it,
the voice was singular—no giggles, no
rise and fall of youth’s usual verbal drama.

The voice was young, or female,
an alto, its tone calmly conversational,
on a cellphone, I assumed,
on a cellphone in the dark, alone.

The cadence was familiar,
a soft and friendly sound, Latino, it seemed,
a casual tone revealing a very long story,
with words in which I caught no meaning.

But later, after coffee, I thought of Lupé,
from the Army very long ago. I never
knew why we called him that—
a friendly, casual guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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