Back to Issue Thirty-Nine



Something went wrong.
That’s what the machine
says when I call to say
my paper didn’t arrive.
Machines are trained
by people, so they’re
smart, they know a thing
or fifty trillion. Did you miss
your Sunday delivery?
it asks. I did, I say. I
miss everything, I say,
because it’s a machine and
it has to listen, or at least
it has to not hang up
without trying to understand
why I called, which means
trying to correct what
went wrong. Let me
see if I got this right,
the voice says, you
missed your Sunday paper?
Yes, I say, but also I
miss my childhood and fairy
tales, like Eden. I miss sweet
Rob Roys with strangers.
I’m sorry, the machine says.
I’m having trouble understanding.
Did you miss today’s paper?
Yes, I say, but that’s not
the half of it. Sometimes
I just feel like half
of me, and even that
feels like too much. I’m
having trouble understanding,
the machine repeats, its
syllables halted, as if
trying to mimic an empath.
I’m having trouble understanding
too, I say. I used to understand
so much: photosynthesis, the
human heart, I’d even
memorized the Krebs cycle,
but now all I remember
is lifting the golden coil
of the kitchen phone to maneuver
under my mother’s conversations.
It was like lifting
the horizon. There’s
a silence, and the machine
asks: Are you still there? In
a few words, please describe
your issue. Where do I begin
being a minimalist? Time,
I say, I’ve got a problem
with that. Also, loss, and
attachment. That’s pretty
much it, and the news in its sky-
blue sleeve is meant to be
a distraction, isn’t it? I ask.
More silence, and then:
You miss your mother?
a voice asks. It’s
a human voice.
Me too, she says.


Andrea Cohen‘s poems have appeared in The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Her latest poetry collection is Everything; other recent books include Nightshade and Unfathoming. Cohen directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, MA.

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