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The Cord

I used to lie on the floor for hours after
school with the phone cradled between
my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold
rice to my left, my school books to my right.
Twirling the cord between my fingers
I spoke to friends who recognized the
language of our realm. Throats and lungs
swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,
toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,
about the boys who didn’t love us, 
who we loved too much, the pang
of the nights. Each sentence was
new territory, like a door someone was
rushing into, the glass shattering
with delirium, with knowledge and fear.
My Mother never complained about the phone bill,
what it cost for her daughter to disappear
behind a door, watching the cord
stretching its muscle away from her.
Perhaps she thought it was the only way
she could reach me, sending me away
to speak in the underworld.
As long as I was speaking
she could put my ear to the tenuous earth
and allow me to listen, to decipher.
And these were the elements of my Mother,
the earthed wire, the burning cable,
as if she flowed into the room with
me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,
the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this
and when you feel removed from it
I will pull the cord and take you
back towards me.

—Leanne O’Sullivan

from Poetry magazine
Volume CLXXVI, Number 3, June 2000

Copyright 2000 by The Modern Poetry Association.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of The Modern Poetry Association. For further permissions information, contact Mary Cornish, PO Box 15667, Stanford, CA 94309-5667 or Poetry, 60 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60610 or

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Leanne O’Sullivan comes from the Beara Peninsula in West Cork and was educated at UCC. She is the author of three poetry collections, including The Mining Road (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).

Learn more about Leanne O'Sullivan at Poetry International Rotterdam