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       	—at the library

The loneliness of a rank of six public
pay phones moves me today almost to tears,
and I wonder, dropping in my quarters,
if you will allow this odd nostalgic

impulse toward anachronism 
to go through. That is, if you will answer
this morning’s call from an unknown number,
or let it, by the cold mechanism

of that which is called caller ID,
be rerouted to what is known as voice mail.
And then, on hearing your unreal voice, if I will,
nevertheless, tell you that it’s me.

But no, I hang up, and from the pay phone
on the far right I call the one one slot left,
and from the third, call the next one left,
and from the fifth, call the sixth and final phone,

creating as I do a carillon
of overlapping, almost identical rings,
disturbing the many students studying
in this building, where no one’s home.

As I leave, I dial you on my cell phone,
and you answer, asking if I’ve just called,
saying the number was strange, that you’d called
back but heard only a busy-signal’s drone.

Ah, love, let us be true to one another
in almost every way, I also do not say.
I’m at the door now, this cold and snowy day,
thinking of the old high ways one lover

once spoke to another, over wires,
when a call could be a complete surprise.
Still you ask, what is that strange bell noise?
And I answer, just the ringing in my ears.

—Robert Wrigley

“Tinnitus – at the library” from BOX by Robert Wrigley, copyright © 2017 by Robert Wrigley.

Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

All rights reserved.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Robert Wrigley (1951- ) was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. He is the author of 11 poetry collections, including Box (2017). Wrigley teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Idaho.

Learn more about Robert Wrigley at The Poetry Foundation.