“Telephone Crew” by Jesse Bertron

Jesse Bertron


Because the trees outside my mother’s cabin
were so thick, the way she got the telephone
was for an archer to come with the crew

of diggers who set the high poles, and climb
and shoot an arrow tied to high-gauge fishing line
above the trees, and use that line to string the cable

to her house. It was the archer who came back,
later that night, heaving his whole body at her door,
saying, come on, let me in. And she said no.

Once my mother rolled her eyes
at Allen Ginsberg from the front row
of his classroom at Naropa.

Once my mother was surprised
by a copperhead in the outhouse
when she was pregnant with my sister

so she took up a hoe
and cut the snake in half
and then she did what she came in there for.

She had a .22, and bullets, and an oil lamp
and a cabin that was wired for a phone.
And she could hear the archer walk around the house.

Like many women who survived until her age
my mother has a history
which gives her trouble with her memory.

And someday in the next five years,
if I want to see my mother, I’ll no longer be allowed
to be her son. I will stand at her door knocking

as a man. I never had to be a stranger,
when I was with my mother. I won’t be allowed
to be a stranger then.

from A Plumber’s Guide to Light
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Jesse Bertron: “A Plumber’s Guide to Light is a love letter to the building trades and to the people who work them. This book is populated by people who think they will be saved by work and by those who know they won’t. It looks at the fragile seam that runs between the job site and the home, about the ways that family and work bleed into one another.” (web)

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