“Telephone Lines” by Eric Paul Shaffer

Eric Paul Shaffer


When the telephone first came to our upcountry farm in Kula,
there was only one wire. The numbers were a digit different,

but it was the same line. When anybody’s rang, ours rang
in the kitchen, and so rang the receivers in every other house.
No matter what somebody said, anybody could be listening,

and everybody knew it, so nobody ever said anything important
or personal on the phone. Phones were public, like a restroom

or a library is public. If the words were private, they were taken
outside or penned. Nobody ever called anybody for no reason,

and conversations were short. Before the telephone, we lived
alone where we couldn’t even see the neighbors’ lights at night,
but the wires shrunk the world. No longer was there anywhere

you knew anybody you couldn’t call anymore. So we called.
Whenever we picked up the phone, there were voices in the line.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008


Eric Paul Shaffer:“Poetry is made best with the ear and the tongue, so everywhere I go, I listen for good lines. ‘Telephone Lines’ originated in overhearing two men discuss the good old days at an upcountry Maui hardware store. Instead of saying ‘voices on the line,’ one said, ‘voices in the line.’ Everything they said from that moment applied equally to telephones and poems. I plucked their words from the air, tossed in some of mine, and, leaning on the hood of my car, scrawled the poem on the back of an advertisement for gardening tools.”

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