D. H. Rumsfeld calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: As we know,  / There are known knowns.


CALLER: There are things we know we know.

COUNSELOR: But can we truly know anything in this world?

CALLER: We also know / There are known unknowns.

COUNSELOR: You’re tripping me out, man.

CALLER: That is to say / We know there are some things / We do not know.


CALLER: But there are also unknown unknowns,

COUNSELOR: Wow, that’s deep.

CALLER: The ones we don’t know

COUNSELOR: Like the sound of one hand clapping.

CALLER: We don’t know.

COUNSELOR: Namaste, my brother, namaste.


COUNSELOR: I don’t know. [pause] Some hippie.

Theodore Roethke calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   

COUNSELOR: I’ve had mornings like that. Do you feel this way often?

CALLER: I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   

COUNSELOR: I’ll take that as a yes. Have you found any coping strategies that work for you?

CALLER: I learn by going where I have to go.

COUNSELOR: So, just take it as it comes and see what happens?

CALLER: We think by feeling.

COUNSELOR: That is so true. Most people don’t seem to realize it, but—

CALLER: What is there to know?   

COUNSELOR: Exactly! So much of what we think of as objective truth is just our own justification for what we want to believe.

CALLER: I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   

COUNSELOR: So you’re at least aware of your own subjectivity. How does that make you feel?

CALLER: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

COUNSELOR: So… still waking up then?

CALLER: Of those so close beside me,

COUNSELOR: So there are other people with you?

CALLER: which are you?   

COUNSELOR: I’m not there, sir. I’m on the phone.

CALLER: God bless the Ground!  

COUNSELOR: So you’re calling from a landline? Or you need to ground yourself? Or are you talking literally about the ground?

CALLER: I shall walk softly there,   

COUNSELOR: Right. So if you’re not on the ground, where are you? The ferry? The subway?

CALLER: And learn by going where I have to go.

COUNSELOR: Do you know what the next stop is? Maybe I can help you figure out which line you’re on.

CALLER: Light takes the Tree;

COUNSELOR: You can connect from the Light Rail to the Three train at Christopher Street, or if you’re at the World Trade Center, you can walk north to Chambers Street, or northeast to Park Place.

CALLER: but who can tell us how?   

COUNSELOR: If you’re at the World Trade Center, there should be a conductor you can ask for directions.

CALLER: The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   

COUNSELOR: That sounds like Christopher Street. Turn left when you exit the station, and walk east for a couple of blocks.

CALLER: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

COUNSELOR: I hear you. I think there’s a coffee place on the corner, if it’s still there.


Read the original here.

Frank O’Hara calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: I am not a painter,

COUNSELOR: How is that a problem for you, sir?

CALLER: I am a poet. 

COUNSELOR: I’m afraid there’s no cure for that.


COUNSELOR: I don’t know. I just don’t think that medical science has found a cure.

CALLER: I think I would rather be / a painter,

COUNSELOR: Are you sure, sir? Van Gogh was a painter, and he was miserable.

CALLER: but I am not.

COUNSELOR: Exactly! How are you feeling?

CALLER: Well, 

COUNSELOR: Excellent! Is there anything else I can help you with?

CALLER: for instance, Mike Goldberg / is starting a painting.

COUNSELOR: Good for him! Have you tried not making it about yourself?

CALLER: I drop in. 

COUNSELOR: Because sometimes, just letting yourself feel good for another person’s success can help with these feelings of envy.

CALLER: “Sit down and have a drink” he / says.


CALLER: I drink;

COUNSELOR: Don’t do that. You should never drink paint. Some people think it’s why Van Gogh was so miserable.

CALLER: we drink.

COUNSELOR: Well, Van Gogh didn’t actually drink the paint, but he may have put the ends of his brushes in his mouth while he was thinking, and he exposed himself to heavy metals in the pigments, and the chemicals in turpentine.

CALLER: I look / up. “You have SARDINES in it.”

COUNSELOR: That is one weird-ass cocktail.




Walt Whitman calls the Poetry Crisis Line—Part II

(Read Part I here.)

CALLER: Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
COUNSELOR: No, sir, we’re on the phone. I don’t see anything where you are.
CALLER: It is not chaos or death —
COUNSELOR: I’m glad to hear it—but I’d still like you to let me call you an ambulance.
CALLER: it is form,
COUNSELOR: Are you sure? Your scansion is all over the place.
CALLER: union,
COUNSELOR: I’m glad someone is protecting your rights. But–
CALLER: plan —
COUNSELOR: Wait—you meant for this to happen?
CALLER: it is eternal life — it is Happiness.
COUNSELOR: Please, sir—don’t go to the light. Stay with me now.
CALLER: The past and present wilt —
COUNSELOR: The past doesn’t matter. But please hang on in the present. Remember to breathe. Feel the air in your lungs.
CALLER: I have fill’d them, emptied them,
COUNSELOR: Good! Breathe in, breathe out.
CALLER: And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
COUNSELOR: Exactly. The future is yours to make.
CALLER: Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
COUNSELOR: No, sir. That’s not how it works. I’m here to listen.
CALLER: Look in my face
COUNSELOR: I can’t do that sir. This is an anonymous call.
CALLER: while I snuff the sidle of evening,
COUNSELOR: Now hold in—that doesn’t mean it’s OK for you to go around snuffing people.
CALLER: (Talk honestly,
COUNSELOR: I mean it!
CALLER: no one else hears you,
COUNSELOR: I know it’s just us, but I’ll still stand by what I said.
CALLER: and I stay only a minute longer.)
COUNSELOR: Please hang in there, sir.
CALLER: Do I contradict myself?
COUNSELOR: I don’t think so.
CALLER: Very well then I contradict myself,
COUNSELOR: In what way, sir?
CALLER: (I am large,
COUNSELOR: It’s OK sir. You don’t need to worry about your weight.
CALLER: I contain multitudes.)
COUNSELOR: Or what people say about it.
CALLER: I concentrate toward them that are nigh,
COUNSELOR: That’s good. You can’t expect to please everyone. Start with those who are closest.
CALLER: I wait on the door-slab.
COUNSELOR: I haven’t sent the ambulance yet, sir.
CALLER: Who has done his day’s work?
COUNSELOR: I’m trying, but you haven’t told me where you are.
CALLER: who will soonest be through with his supper?
COUNSELOR: I don’t know who’s on call, sir.
CALLER: Who wishes to walk with me?
COUNSELOR: I don’t know, but they will come if you tell me where you are.
CALLER: Will you speak before I am gone?
COUNSELOR: That’s what I’m trying to do, sir.
CALLER: will you prove already too late?
COUNSELOR: I hope not. Please stay with me.

Walt Whitman calls the Poetry Crisis Line – Part I

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: There is that in me —
COUNSELOR: Could you be more specific?
CALLER: I do not know what it is —
COUNSELOR: Could you give me a general category? Like a gallstone, or a foreign object, or a hankering for pad thai?
CALLER: but I know it is in me.
COUNSELOR: Right. How?
CALLER:Wrench’d and sweaty — calm and cool then my body becomes,
COUNSELOR: That sounds like you may be going into shock, sir. Could you tell me where–
CALLER: I sleep —
COUNSELOR: Please don’t go to sleep, sir. Not until I can dispatch an ambulance to your location.
CALLER:I sleep long.
COUNSELOR: Before you sleep, could you tell me your location?
CALLER: I do not know it —
COUNSELOR: Maybe we could start with a cross-street?
CALLER: it is without name —
COUNSELOR: Uh, does your phone have a locator? Can you share your location?
CALLER: it is a word unsaid,
COUNSELOR: That’s right—you don’t need to say anything, just click on Share Location.
CALLER: It is not in any dictionary,
COUNSELOR: No, don’t open the dictionary—Share Location. It’s–
CALLER: utterance,
COUNSELOR: Good idea—ask Siri.
CALLER: symbol.
COUNSELOR: No, emojis won’t help.
CALLER: Something it swings on
COUNSELOR: Tindr really won’t help.
CALLER: more than the earth I swing on,
COUNSELOR: So you’ve opened the GPS? Good. Can you tell it–
COUNSELOR: No, don’t drive anywhere—not in your condition. Just tell it to share your location.
CALLER: the creation
CALLER: is the friend whose embracing awakes me.
COUNSELOR: There’s a friend with you? Can you put him on?
CALLER: Perhaps I might tell more.
COUNSELOR: That’s fine if you want to talk, but I need to know where to send the ambulance.
CALLER: Outlines!
COUNSELOR: Black outlines? Or more like auras?
CALLER: I plead for my brothers and sisters.
COUNSELOR: I think you need to worry about yourself now, sir.

Sylvia Plath re-calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: You do not do,

COUNSELOR: What don’t I do?

CALLER: you do not do / Any more,

COUNSELOR: What don’t I do any more of? Or anymore?

CALLER: black shoe

COUNSELOR: Is that like soft-shoe?

CALLER: In which I have lived

COUNSELOR: So, more like the old lady in a shoe? How much floor space?

CALLER: like a foot   

COUNSELOR: That’s tough. How long have you lived there?

CALLER: For thirty years,

COUNSELOR: So you can’t get out of the mortgage? Is there anywhere else you could go? Like maybe a vacation slipper?

CALLER: poor and white,   

COUNSELOR: Then… uh… boot camp?

CALLER: Barely daring to breathe or

COUNSELOR: I imagine it must really stink, living there.

CALLER: Achoo.

COUNSELOR: Gesundheit.

CALLER: Daddy, I have had to kill you.   

COUNSELOR: That seems like a lot to bear.

CALLER: You died before I had time——

COUNSELOR: Was that a relief?

CALLER: Marble-heavy,

COUNSELOR: So…still a Lizzie burden.

CALLER: a bag full of God,   

COUNSELOR: Are there angels pinned to it?

CALLER: Ghastly statue with one gray toe   

COUNSELOR: Was that toe statue in the living room? Of the shoe house?

CALLER: Big as a Frisco seal

COUNSELOR: So… in the kitchen with the Rice-A-Roni?


Click here to read the rest of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath