Grief Recordings

What am I to do when the recorded voice on the machine says,

don’t hang up, monotone of a lone road in the middle of nowhere.


When that voice bellows, coarse as a military command—The voice

that tells you to pull the trigger on innocent civilians?— Is it mechanical,


like an electric garage door opener?  I can still hear my friend’s encrypted

voice on the machine.  A thrall reaching out to me, before he went to start


the engine in his car— The garage door sealed to silence with the oils

and grease stains.  That night, I was calling for our lost dog


in the snow.  All these years later, his open car door still buzzes in my ear. 

That voice that tells you to answer, pull the trigger, start the engine—Is it the voice


of play monopoly money, pretend scenarios of buying a fake property

on a fake road,  collecting $2oo for passing go?                                           


We’d throw up the rainbow money like confetti, and laughed so hard, he peed

on his mother’s good rug.  For a month, he was grounded.   Today on the machine,


the recorded voice even knows to pause, as if a breathing-being             

on the other end.  As if the voice a mannequin in a store window. 


There are systems in the works, that mean to destroy us.  If a command gave you

a rope what would you do with it?—Tie a knot, hang yourself with it?—


If we live long enough we’re all going to die.  That night, when my voice

didn’t answer— My old friend junked his life on gas fumes, 


just as his father before him.  Nights on the phone, my chords next to his heart,

sharp and breathing, amped as an intercom.   I liked him, but I didn’t love him.  


Looking out the window tonight, I hold the image of two kids

on a snowy night, assembling a holy figure with a dead man’s clothes—


Hat and scarf, and his voice glistening in the silent drone of falling snow.

Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure, and the forthcoming collection Still-Life With God. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including, Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine,  The Cortland Review, Cultural WeeklyDenver Quarterly, Diode, Florida Review, Flock Lit, Green Mountains Review, Los Angeles ReviewNorth American ReviewRust + Moth, Sweet: A Literary Confection, SWWIM, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily, and nominated for Pushcart and Best of The Net. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director of the Poetry Society of America. She has received fellowships from Bread Loaf and the VCCA,  Atkins teaches creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College and lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County VA with her family. More or @catkinspoet  Info at: www.cynthiaatkins.com