Lucie Brock-Broido calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Soon the electrical wires will grow heavy under the snow.

COUNSELOR: Are they over your house?

CALLER: I am thinking of fire

COUNSELOR: That is a concern.

CALLER: of the possibility of fire

COUNSELOR: That’s a meta-concern.

CALLER: & then / moving

COUNSELOR: So a really bad fire, if it makes your house uninhabitable.

CALLER: Across America

COUNSELOR: A fire that makes your state uninhabitable? Where are you calling from?

CALLER:  in a car with a powder blue dashboard,

COUNSELOR: Right. Good that you got out of that house.

CALLER: Moving to country music

COUNSELOR: Uh… “know when to walk away, know when to run”?

CALLER: & the heart

COUNSELOR: “is a lonely hunter”?

CALLER: Is torn a little more

COUNSELOR: So, kind of the same.

CALLER: because the song says the truth.

COUNSELOR: Wait—when your house burned down, did you lose your truck, your dog, your job, and your man? And are you drunk? Or bowling?

CALLER: Because in the thirty-six things that can happen

COUNSELOR: In country/western songs?

CALLER: To people,

COUNSELOR: Of course. It were about robots it’d be technopop. Or industrial. Or maybe something by Rush.

CALLER: men & women,

COUNSELOR: That’s usually how it works in country songs.

CALLER: women & women,

COUNSELOR: Are you listening to k.d. lang? Brandy Clark?

CALLER: Men & men,

COUNSELOR: Ty Herndon? Shane McAnally?

CALLER: in all these things

COUNSELOR: It’s not just about their things, you know.

CALLER: the soul is bound

COUNSELOR: Yes, exactly.

CALLER: To be broken

COUNSELOR: No, it’s not about that. It’s perfectly natural. A person doesn’t have to be broken–

CALLER: somewhere along the line,

COUNSELOR: Well, I guess everyone has to be broken somewhere along the line…


[Read the original here]

Nobody calls the Poetry Crisis Line

[original by Emily Dickinson]

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: I’m Nobody!
STAFFER: It’s OK–at the Poetry Crisis Line, we respect your privacy.
CALLER: Who are you?
STAFFER: We respect my privacy also.
CALLER: Are you – Nobody – too?
STAFFER: If that’s how you’d like to think of it.
CALLER: Then there’s a pair of us!
STAFFER: No, we respect everyone’s privacy.
CALLER: Don’t tell!
STAFFER: Exactly.
CALLER: they’d advertise –
STAFFER: Who would?
CALLER: you know!
STAFFER: Right. Are they listening in already?
CALLER: How dreary – to be – Somebody!
STAFFER: Did you take diction lessons from William Shatner?
CALLER: How public –
STAFFER: No, we respect your privacy. I was just–
CALLER: like a Frog –
STAFFER: No, I mean it!
CALLER: To tell one’s name –
STAFFER: Again, you don’t have to.
CALLER: the livelong June –
STAFFER: Well hello, June. Nice to meet you.
CALLER: To an admiring Bog!
STAFFER: That’s not the best place for privacy. No one will bother you while you’re there, but if you fall in you could end up preserved for thousands of years, then put on display in a museum.


Adrienne Rich re-calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: I dreamed I called you on the telephone

COUNSELOR: And now you did. Wow!

CALLER: to say: Be kinder to yourself

COUNSELOR: That’s nice of you. What did I say?

CALLER: but you were sick and would not answer

COUNSELOR: I’m sorry.

CALLER: The waste of my love goes on this way

COUNSELOR: To be fair, you were dreaming. And I’m here now.

CALLER: trying to save you from yourself

COUNSELOR: But you can’t do that.

CALLER: I have always wondered

COUNSELOR: You can’t. That’s not how it works. You can help me save myself, but only if I’m willing to accept your help.

CALLER: about the leftover / energy,

COUNSELOR: After a shift here, I usually don’t have a whole lot left.

CALLER: water rushing down a hill

COUNSELOR: More like down the drain.

CALLER: long after the rains have stopped

COUNSELOR: No, the drain, with a d.

CALLER: or the fire


CALLER: you want

COUNSELOR: to get out? If there’s a fire, you want to get out.

CALLER: to go to bed from

COUNSELOR: from a fire?

CALLER: but cannot leave,

COUNSELOR: How can we sleep when the beds are–

CALLER:  burning-down

COUNSELOR: –the house?

CALLER:  but not burnt-down

COUNSELOR: You’re a real live wire.

CALLER: the red coals more extreme,

COUNSELOR: They do sound extreme. But I’m not–

CALLER: more curious

COUNSELOR: Well, maybe a little.

CALLER: in their flashing

COUNSELOR: Yes, a flash of curiosity–

CALLER:  and

COUNSELOR: –but I’d be more concerned about–

CALLER: dying

COUNSELOR: Yes, that. Seriously. You call and say you want to save me from myself, and then you’re telling me to go to sleep in a burning building. I mean…you do understand that there is a middle ground? I get that you want to help, and that sometimes it’s frustrating when you can’t, but people need to be able to make their own decisions–even if sometimes their choices are different–

CALLER: than you wish they were

COUNSELOR: Exactly! Well, almost exactly. It should be from you wish they were. I mean from what you wish they were. From whom you wish they were? Or something like that. It’s been a long shift, and I’m–

CALLER: sitting there


CALLER: long after midnight

COUNSELOR: It is? This has been a long shift. I was supposed to clock out at five.

Rita Dove calls the Poetry Crisis Line

[Read the original here]


COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom,

COUNSELOR: Do you often wake up to go to the–

CALLER: waiting.

COUNSELOR: Oh. Have you tried drinking a glass of water?

CALLER: Sweat prickles behind my knees,

COUNSELOR: So you’re not dehydrated.

CALLER: the baby-breasts are alert.

COUNSELOR: So, um, is it harder for you to, uh, go when you’re, um…

CALLER: Venetian blinds slice up the moon;

COUNSELOR: I wouldn’t advise eating cheese in the bathroom. Wash your hands first, and go to the dining r—

CALLER: the tiles quiver in pale strips.

COUNSELOR: On second thought, maybe you should stay seated, right where you are.

CALLER: Then they come,


CALLER: the three seal men

COUNSELOR: Notaries? Did you ask for their seal on something, or did they just show up?

CALLER: with eyes as round / As dinner plates

COUNSELOR: Wait, you mean, like Navy SEALs? With night-vision goggles?


COUNSELOR: Are they armed?

CALLER: eyelashes like sharpened tines.

COUNSELOR: So… yes? But… um… that sounds really impractical.

CALLER: They bring the scent of licorice.

COUNSELOR: Uh…don’t get in the van?

CALLER: One sits in the washbowl,

COUNSELOR: Wait—when you said seal men, did you mean—

CALLER: One on the bathtub edge;

COUNSELOR: You did! You’re talking about actual selkies, aren’t you?

CALLER: one leans against the door.

COUNSELOR: I didn’t realize they showed up in groups.

CALLER: “Can you feel it yet?” they whisper.

COUNSELOR: Feel what?

CALLER: I don’t know what to say,

COUNSELOR: Honestly, neither do I.

CALLER: again.

COUNSELOR: So… this has happened to you before?

CALLER: They chuckle,

COUNSELOR: That’s not surprising. Strange emotional responses are something selkies are known for. Laughing at funerals, crying at weddings—

CALLER: Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.

COUNSELOR: That, not so much. Did they misplace their car keys? I thought they were supposed to come in from the sea.

CALLER: “Well,

COUNSELOR: From the well? I thought they preferred salt water.

CALLER: maybe next time.”

COUNSELOR: I have heard of seals swimming up a—

CALLER: And they rise,

COUNSELOR: Not up, just up a river.

CALLER: Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,

COUNSELOR: Could be. I’d imagined it in the daytime, but I don’t know what time a seal would swim upriver and—

CALLER: And vanish.

COUNSELOR: You mean literally? Or just under the surface?

CALLER: I clutch at the ragged holes / They leave behind,


CALLER: here

COUNSELOR: In your bathroom?

CALLER: at the edge of darkness.

COUNSELOR: Right. Um. Literal or metaphorical darkness?

CALLER: Night rests

COUNSELOR: So the night is resting, but you’re wide awake. How does that make you feel?

CALLER: like a ball of fur on my tongue.

COUNSELOR: So…kind of catty, then?

The Pool Players at the Golden Shovel call the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: We real cool.
COUNSELOR: Can you get warm? Are you at risk of hypothermia?
CALLER: We left school.
COUNSELOR: That’s not important right now. What matters is getting you warm.
CALLER: We lurk late.
COUNSELOR: Lurk where? Can I send someone to help you?
CALLER: We strike straight.
COUNSELOR: Strike out in which direction? Please tell me where I can send someone to help you.
CALLER: We sing sin.
COUNSELOR: Again, that’s not important.
CALLER: We thin gin.
COUNSELOR: I wouldn’t advise that. Alcohol can make you feel warm in the moment, but it can bring on hypothermia faster.
CALLER: We jazz June.
COUNSELOR: That’s good. Think warm, free-flowing thoughts.
CALLER: We die soon.
COUNSELOR: Please don’t give up hope now. Just tell me where I can send help…. Hello? …. Hello?


[View the original by Gwendolyn Brooks here]

Abraham Lincoln calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is the issue you’re calling for?

CALLER: Four score

COUNSELOR: I’m sorry, sir. I can talk you through your feelings, but that is beyond the scope of this service.


COUNSELOR: Whatever you’re looking for, I cannot help you score.

CALLER: seven years ago

COUNSELOR: I don’t know who was working the phone lines then.

CALLER: our fathers

COUNSELOR: No kidding! Your dad worked here too?

CALLER: brought forth

COUNSELOR: That’s different. We only have three shifts now.

CALLER: on this continent

COUNSELOR: Oh, I meant work shifts, not plate tectonics.

CALLER: a new nation.

COUNSELOR: That’s some serious continental drift. When did you say your father worked here?

CALLER: dedicated

COUNSELOR: I’m sure he was. Everyone I’ve met here is very dedicated to the job.

CALLER: to the proposition

COUNSELOR: Oh. Uh. . . still trying to score then? Because that’s not something that I–

CALLER: that all men

COUNSELOR: Uh, did you mean #notallmen?

CALLER: are create equal.

COUNSELOR: Well, that’s true. But what about the woman? How do her feelings fit in?

CALLER: Now we are engaged.

COUNSELOR: That was quick.

CALLER: in a civil

COUNSELOR: I mean seriously, a minute ago you were trying to score, and now you’re engaged, and in a civil union?

CALLER: war,


CALLER: testing

COUNSELOR: Oh, good. For a moment I thought you were serious. So were you actually talking about the–

CALLER: whether

COUNSELOR: I can’t do anything about that.

CALLER: that nation

COUNSELOR: Uh, is this the same one you were talking about before?

CALLER: or any nation

COUNSELOR: Not very picky, then?


COUNSELOR: I’m just saying, you might want to stop, smell the roses, get to know this woman you’re talking to before she’s–

CALLER: conceived


CALLER: and so dedicated

COUNSELOR: Yes, you do sound dedicated. I don’t know how anyone can–

CALLER: can long endure.

COUNSELOR: Uh, forgive me for saying this sir, but it sounds to me like it must’ve been lightning quick.


T.S. Eliot calls the Poetry Crisis Line on Ash Wednesday

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Because I do not hope to turn again

COUNSELOR: Could I get you to pull over before you continue this call?

CALLER: Because I do not hope

COUNSELOR: No, it’s for your own safety.

CALLER: Because I do not hope

COUNSELOR: Whatever it is, it can’t be completely hopeless. What is it you’re hoping for?

CALLER: to turn

COUNSELOR: Is there a lot of traffic? Just pull over now, and make the turn once you’re off the phone.

CALLER: Desiring this man’s gift

COUNSELOR: Are you gift shopping? If you’re in a mall parking lot, I can understand why turning seems hopeless.


COUNSELOR: Is it a close friend? What are you planning to get him?

CALLER: that man’s scope

COUNSELOR: Used mouthwash? As a gift?

CALLER: I no longer strive

COUNSELOR: No kidding.

CALLER: to strive toward such things.

COUNSELOR: Yeah, you’ve seriously stopped trying.


COUNSELOR: Because it’s a gift. A present should be something…you know, … something someone will actually want.

CALLER: Should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)

COUNSELOR: That’s more imaginative than used mouthwash, I’ll grant you. But, um, when it comes to gift ideas, you might also want to steer clear of endangered species.

Dorothy Parker calls the Poetry Crisis Line

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: A single flow’r he sent me,

STAFFER: Is that a problem?

CALLER: since we met.

STAFFER: I can see where that would be annoying. How long has it been?

CALLER: All tenderly his messenger he chose;

STAFFER: Yes, that could be a problem too, if he’s paying more attention to the delivery person.

CALLER: Deep-hearted,

STAFFER: How would he know about the messenger’s heart, exactly?

CALLER: pure,

STAFFER: Again, how would he know?

CALLER: with scented dew still wet –

STAFFER: Was she a bicycle messenger? They can get kind of sweaty.

CALLER: One perfect rose.

STAFFER: Now, now. I know you’re feeling neglected, but there’s no reason to get sarcastic about how the messenger smells.

CALLER: I knew the language of the floweret;

STAFFER: Wow. Can you teach me? I talk to the trees, but they never listen to me.

CALLER: ‘My fragile leaves,’ it said,

STAFFER: Sounds like a wimpy flower.

CALLER: ‘his heart enclose.’

STAFFER: OK, sounds like a creepy flower.

CALLER: Love long

STAFFER: Long is good. But I like all shapes and sizes.

CALLER: has taken

STAFFER: Wait, what? I know he’s taken. I’m not after your man.

CALLER: for his

STAFFER: Look lady, you called me. I’m not after your man for his money, not for his body, not for his–

CALLER: amulet

STAFFER: –Wait. Are you dating Doctor Strange? Because in that case I might be after your–

CALLER: One perfect rose.

STAFFER: You mean you’re actually dating a flower?

CALLER: Why is it no one ever sent me yet / One perfect limousine,

STAFFER: That would be hard to deliver by bicycle.

CALLER: do you suppose?

STAFFER: Well, yeah. Think about the logistics.

CALLER: Ah no,

STAFFER: Don’t worry. I’m sure they abandoned the concept before anyone got hurt in testing.

CALLER: it’s always just my luck to get / One perfect rose.

STAFFER: It’s not my job to judge your lifestyle choices. But if things get intimate, you may want to watch out for the thorns.


STAFFER: I mean, it’s not like being crushed under a limousine, but still…

Nikki Giovanni calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR:  Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: While it is true


CALLER: (though only in a factual sense)

COUNSELOR: Facts are a good place to start. What are we discussing?

CALLER: That in the wake of a / Her-I-can

COUNSELOR: Is that where a Yes-we-can meets an I’m-with-her?

CALLER: comes a / Shower

COUNSELOR: Wishful thinking, I guess. Are you talking about a rain shower? Or a shower in your bathroom?

CALLER: Surely I am not

COUNSELOR: A baby shower?

CALLER: The gravitating force

COUNSELOR: Uh… a meteor shower?

CALLER: that keeps this house

COUNSELOR: Wait–your house was hit by a meteor?

CALLER: full of panthers

COUNSELOR: Uh… That’s a first. Did they call ahead?


COUNSELOR: If they do, don’t anther.

CALLER: LBJ has made it

COUNSELOR: Do you mean the dead president? Or the LBJ Space Center?

CALLER: quite clear to me

COUNSELOR: If you say so. Do you think NASA makes a practice of packing wild animals into space rocks?

CALLER: He doesn’t give a / Good goddamn what I think

COUNSELOR: I do. Care what you think, I mean. I don’t stuff big cats into meteors.

CALLER: (else why would he continue to masterbate in public?)

COUNSELOR:  I don’t know. Poor impulse control?


Read the original here