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At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

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.

—William E. Stafford

From The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems
Graywolf Press

Copyright 1975, 1998 Estate of William Stafford
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. Copyright 1975, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. For further permissions information, contact Graywolf Press, 2402 University Ave., Suite 203, St. Paul, MN 55114,

Poetry 180

About the Poet

William E. Stafford (1914–1993) served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1970 to 1971, and has published more than 65 volumes of poetry. Stafford was born in Hutchison, Kansas, received a bachelor’s and a master’s from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Learn more about William E. Stafford at The Poetry Foundation.