Khaled Mattawa calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: My mother forgets to feed her animals

COUNSELOR: Is there someone who can feed them for her?

CALLER: because it’s only fair.

COUNSELOR: Fair or not, the animals have to be fed.

CALLER: She rushes to them

COUNSELOR: Oh, good.

CALLER: when / she hears hoarse roosters crowing

COUNSELOR: Don’t they do that at daybreak? How early does she feed her animals? Or forget to?

CALLER: and billy goats butting

COUNSELOR: Are you sure they’re not bluffing? Or gruffing? Is there a bridge?

CALLER: over

COUNSELOR: a troll?

CALLER: a last straw.

COUNSELOR: I was only asking.

CALLER: This month the moon becomes a princess.

COUNSELOR: She does! Um… why did you call her the moon? Is that a crack about her butt?

CALLER: The stars fan her,

COUNSELOR: I’m a fan too. I loved her in Suits.

CALLER: Jupiter pours cups of wine,

COUNSELOR: No, that’s Bacchus. Jupiter is in charge of—you don’t think it will rain, do you?

CALLER: Mars sings

COUNSELOR: Shouldn’t that be Apollo?

CALLER: melancholy mawals.

COUNSELOR: Where did they come from? The melancholy narwhals?

CALLER: Bearded men

COUNSELOR: And they just show up, holding narwhals?

CALLER: holding prayer beads

COUNSELOR: That sounds much easier.

CALLER: and yellow booklets

COUNSELOR: See, a book and a string of beads—easy to carry. A book and a narwhal, not so much.

CALLER: stare at her

COUNSELOR: Uh, are they hoping for autographs? At her wedding? That’s the tackiest thing I can imagine.

CALLER: and point aching fingers at her waist.

COUNSELOR: I stand corrected. What is this obsession with women’s waistlines?



Read the rest of “Ramadan” by Khaled Mattawa here.

Carlos Hernandez calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: Abuela of the Headless Saints:
COUNSELOR: Uh, how do I respond to that?
CALLER: hello.
COUNSELOR: Hello, but I’m not–
CALLER: It’s Carlos,
COUNSELOR: Hello, Carlos. You don’t have to tell me your name.
CALLER: Emma and Osmundo’s son,
COUNSELOR: Or your parents’ names.
CALLER: tu nieto.
COUNSELOR: No, you don’t have to sing me a tune yet, either. Or ever, if you don’t want to.
CALLER: You’ve been dead ten years.
COUNSELOR: I think you have me mistaken for someone else. I would have remembered that. Or not remembered, because I’d be dead, but–
CALLER: Your ghost / is cheesecloth thin now,
COUNSELOR: So, wait, even the dead do fad diets?
CALLER: prone to holes,
COUNSELOR: Oh, I liked that book! About the kids in the prison camp! And the one who’d been arrested for stealing shoes.
CALLER: and if I held your soul
COUNSELOR: No, the whole shoe! And they had to labor all day in the desert–
CALLER:  up to the sun
COUNSELOR: Yeah, the desert sun.
CALLER: I could count the threads of your integrity.
COUNSELOR: Wait–integrity has a thread count?
CALLER: Ten years:
COUNSELOR: So it’s measured in time?
CALLER: no hauntings, geases, duende pranks,
COUNSELOR: Those wouldn’t make very good units of measure.
CALLER: secrets,
COUNSELOR: Those would be worse. How would you know?
CALLER: curses,
COUNSELOR: Again, that could foil your measurements.
CALLER: visions
COUNSELOR: You wouldn’t know if what you were measuring was real–
CALLER: or possessions.
COUNSELOR: –or who was measuring the threads.
CALLER: Not one.
COUNSELOR: Measuring one thread at a time?
CALLER: ¡That’s not the way your afterlife / was meant to work
COUNSELOR: That’s not how any of this works.



Read the original in its entirety here

Mark Strand calls the Poetry Crisis Line

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: A train runs over me.
STAFFER: Oh my God! Are you hurt? Can I send an ambulance?
CALLER: I feel sorry
STAFFER: Don’t. You don’t have to worry about me.
CALLER: for the engineer
STAFFER: Or him. Or her. Whichever. We need to focus on you.
CALLER: who crouches down / and whispers in my ear
CALLER: that he is innocent.
STAFFER:  What? He said what?
CALLER: He wipes my forehead,
STAFFER:  That’s good. But it’s not OK to pin this on you. That’s called victim blaming, and it’s not OK. The train would still have hit you if you were dressed differently, or if you weren’t walking on the wrong side of the tracks–
CALLER: blows the ashes
STAFFER:  –I mean, OK, it’s a train, so you had to be on the tracks for it to–wait–ashes? Is something on fire?
CALLER: from my lips.
STAFFER: This guy has NO concept of personal space.
CALLER: My blood streams
STAFFER:  What? Never mind about personal space, you need an ambulance! Please tell me where you are.
CALLER: in the evening air,
STAFFER: Well, yeah, but where? In the evening air where?
CALLER: clouding his glasses.
STAFFER:  No. This isn’t about him.
CALLER: He whispers in my ear
STAFFER: You need to understand this is not about him.
CALLER: the details of his life–
STAFFER: Clearly he needs to understand that, too.
CALLER: he has a wife / and child he loves,
STAFFER: That’s great. Can we come back to this after we’ve gotten YOU some help?
CALLER: he’s always been / an engineer.
STAFFER: Right. Any chance you could put the engineer on the phone? Or somebody who actually WANTS my help?


Read the original here.

The Queen of Cheese Presents: Before I Kill You: An Arch-Villainelle

Although I’m not particularly vain,

I’m sure you’d like to know how you will die,

so, first, before I kill you, I’ll explain


my brilliant plan. Don’t bother to complain;

you won’t escape, no matter how you try.

It’s not that I’m particularly vain,


it’s just that after taking all these pains

I would like you to look me in the eye

before I kill you, so I can explain:


a cistern in the mountain gathers rain

through ducts in my enormous statue’s eye

(not that I am particularly vain).


It enters a robotic water main,

which, on command, can self-electrify.

Before I kill you, now, I will explain:


I’ve added some enhancements to my brain—

you’ll nev—What’s that? You’re out? Good grief! Good bye;

good riddance. It’s a good thing I’m not vain;

next time, before I kill you, I’ll explain.


First published in Stone Telling

William Butler Yeats calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: I will arise and go now,
COUNSELOR: Already? But you just called.
CALLER: and go to Innisfree,
COUNSELOR: That sounds nice. Business or pleasure?
CALLER: And a small cabin build there,
COUNSELOR: So more of a permanent move? What kind of a cabin?
CALLER: of clay
COUNSELOR: Like a cliff dwelling?
CALLER: and wattles
COUNSELOR: Uh… like the skin under a turkey’s neck?
CALLER: made;
COUNSELOR: Under a maid’s neck?
CALLER: Nine bean-rows will I have there,
COUNSELOR: Wait… like fava beans? And a nice chianti?
CALLER: a hive for the honey-bee,
COUNSELOR: So, mead…
CALLER: And live alone
COUNSELOR: That’s not helping.
CALLER: in the bee-loud glade.
COUNSELOR: They won’t silence the voices! Please, let me put you in touch with someone who can help!
[click here to read the original]

Shel Silverstein calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: They’ve put a brassiere on the camel–


CALLER: She wasn’t dressed proper, you know.

COUNSELOR: I know, but–who would do that?

CALLER: They’ve put a brassiere on the camel

COUNSELOR: Victoria’s Secret?

CALLER: So that her humps wouldn’t show

COUNSELOR: So the other direction, then? Puritans? The Moral Majority? TV censors?

CALLER: And they’re making other presentable plans;

COUNSELOR: Should I be worried? To whom are they planning to present these presentable plans?

CALLER: They’re even insisting that pigs should wear pants.

COUNSELOR: As if blankets weren’t enough.

CALLER: They’ll dress up the ducks if we give them the chance


CALLER: Since they put a brassiere on the camel.

COUNSELOR: So it’s a one-upsmanship thing, like conceptual art? The last one wasn’t weird enough–what else can we do?

William Shakespeare calls the Poetry Crisis Line (as himself, this time)

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

COUNSELOR: In what way are they not like the sun? I mean, uh–

CALLER: Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

COUNSELOR: I thought coral was more pinkish. Or if it dries out, then it turns white.

CALLER: If snow be white,

COUNSELOR: No, I was still talking about coral.


COUNSELOR: You brought it up, sir.

CALLER: then her breasts are dun;

COUNSELOR:  Done with what? Did she just wean a kid? Or are you–

CALLER: If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

COUNSELOR: Now she sounds like a cyborg. Did you just call me to complain about your girlfriend’s looks?

CALLER: I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

COUNSELOR: Did she hear you complaining? Flowers might be a good start, but it sounds like you need to work on communication skills–and on reasonable expectations. You may want to talk to a couples counselor.

CALLER: But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

COUNSELOR: Or a face painter. I mean, if that’s what she’s into–

CALLER: And in some perfumes is there more delight

COUNSELOR: Have you asked her what she likes? Perfumes, or flowers, or face painting? What would she want to see or hear from you?

CALLER: Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

COUNSELOR: No, I don’t think that’s something any woman would want to hear.

CALLER: I love to hear her speak,

COUNSELOR: That’s much better. And in the long run, it may be more important than how she looks.

CALLER: yet well I know  / That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

COUNSELOR: And we’re back to expectations. You can’t expect your girlfriend to be some goddess.

CALLER: I grant I never saw a goddess

COUNSELOR: Of course not. May I say something about expectations?


COUNSELOR: See, society sets up these lofty expectations that no one can really meet.

CALLER: My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.


CALLER: And yet, by heaven,

COUNSELOR: So on heaven and earth at once? That’s not very common.

CALLER:  I think my love as rare

COUNSELOR: See, now you’re getting somewhere. You complain about the things you don’t like, but deep down you know she’s special. Like…uh, like…

CALLER: As any she belied with false compare

COUNSELOR: So she does it too, huh? I’ve seen that happen. It’s sad when women feel the need to compare themselves to others.

Richard Brautigan calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: He wants to build you a house
COUNSELOR: He does? Who does? What kind of house? Wood? Brick? 3D printed?
CALLER: out of your own bones
CALLER: but / that’s where you’re living / any way!
COUNSELOR: Exactly. I mean–
CALLER: The next time he calls
COUNSELOR: Wait–you mean he’s called here before?
CALLER: you answer the telephone
COUNSELOR: Of course. That’s the job.
CALLER: with the / sound of your grandmother being / born.
COUNSELOR: Uh, I don’t think I was there for that. I mean, how–
CALLER: It was a twenty-three hour / labor
COUNSELOR: I think I’d remember a call that long.
CALLER: in 1894.
COUNSELOR: He must have me confused with somebody else. I only started here in August.
CALLER: He hangs / up.
COUNSELOR: Well, that’s his right, if it’s what he wants to do. Goodbye.

Charles Bukowski drunk dials the Poetry Crisis Line

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: dogs and angels are not / very different
STAFFER: Uh, OK. And you know this because…?
CALLER: I often go to this place to eat.
STAFFER: Right. Do they allow dogs there? Or angels? Do they … serve angels?
CALLER: about 2:30 in the afternoon
STAFFER: So it’s, like, a tea time special?
CALLER: because all the people who eat / there are particularly addled
STAFFER: Does it help calm them down, eating angels?
CALLER: simply glad to be alive and / eating baked beans
STAFFER: Oh good. You had me worried there. Or…are the beans just a side dish?
CALLER: near a plate glass window / which holds the heat
STAFFER: Yeah, nothing worse than cold beans and angels
CALLER: and doesn’t let the cars and / sidewalks inside
STAFFER: Um…is there a risk of the sidewalk coming inside? Don’t they end somewhere?
CALLER: we are allowed as much free / coffee as we can drink
STAFFER: As long as you have someplace safe to be. With a bathroom.
CALLER: and we sit and quietly drink
STAFFER: Is that what you like to do, then? You drink and you know things?
CALLER: the strong black coffee.
STAFFER: That’s a good thing to know. And a good thing to drink. Especially after the sidewalk comes knocking.
CALLER: it is good to be sitting someplace / in a world at 2:30 in the afternoon / without having the flesh ripped from your bones.
STAFFER: Yes, I enjoy that too. Two thirty, three o’clock, anytime–I’m always up for not having the flesh ripped from my bones.
CALLER: even / being addled, we know this.
STAFFER: It’d be hard to forget.
CALLER: nobody bothers us
STAFFER: I hope not. I mean, that would be a kind of a hard sell. “Excuse me, sir, do you mind if I come over and rip the flesh off your bones?”
CALLER: we bother nobody.
STAFFER: I think you’d know better.
CALLER: angels and dogs are not / very different
STAFFER: At all?
CALLER: at 2:30 in the afternoon.
STAFFER: So, um, are they more different at other times of day?
CALLER: I have my favorite table
STAFFER: Can you bring your dog there? … Would you want to?
STAFFER: Wait–can you bring an angel?
CALLER: after I have finished
STAFFER: What–so you’re supposed to leave your angel outside, chained to a fire hydrant while you eat? Can you just smuggle him (or her) in on the head of a pin?
CALLER: I stack the plates, saucers,
STAFFER: So, lots of little places an angel can hide in.
CALLER: the cup,
STAFFER: A great place to hide something small. Just cover it with your hand when the waiter comes past, so the angel doesn’t get scalded by the free coffee.
CALLER: the silverware
STAFFER: That’s not so great–you’d have to eat the baked beans with your hands.
CALLER: neatly–
STAFFER: Is that even possible?
CALLER: my offering to the luck–
STAFFER: That would take a lot of luck, eating baked beans without silverware. Then again, if you’ve got an angel hiding under your spoon…
CALLER: and that sun / working good / all up and / down / inside the / darkness / here
STAFFER: It sounds like you’ve got the crisis under control, sir. Just stay sober, and you should be fine.


From the poem “A Plate Glass Window” in Love Is a Dog from Hell