Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

"Phone Therapy"

Lilly Ledbetter, REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
Lost Horse Press

I was relief, once, for a doctor on vacation
and got a call from a man on a window sill.
This was New York, a dozen stories up.
He was going to kill himself, he said.
I said everything I could think of.
And when nothing worked, when the guy
was still determined to slide out that window
and smash his delicate skull
on the indifferent sidewalk, "Do you think,"
I asked, "you could just postpone it
until Monday, when Dr. Lewis gets back?"

The cord that connected us—strung
under the dirty streets, the pizza parlors, taxis,
women in sneakers carrying their high heels,
drunks lying in piss—that thick coiled wire
waited for the waves of sound.

In the silence I could feel the air slip
in and out of his lungs and the moment
when the motion reversed, like a goldfish
making the turn at the glass end of its tank.
I matched my breath to his, slid
into the water and swam with him.
"Okay," he agreed.

The Write Question blog
The Write Question on Facebook
The Write Question on Twitter
The Write Question podcast

"Phone Therapy" was published in Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, published by Lost Horse Press (2015).

Ellen Bass’s books of poetry include Like a Beggar, published in April 2014 by Copper Canyon Press, and The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press), named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle, and Mules of Love (BOA Editions), which won the Lambda Literary Award. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday).

Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and The Sun. She was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and two Pushcart Prizes.

Her non-fiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins), I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins), and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages.

She currently is teaching in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University and has taught poetry and creative writing in Santa Cruz, CA and at other beautiful locations nationally and internationally.

Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information
Related Content
  • I slept in the valleyshivering, neck sorefrom carrying a dead treeacross my shouldersI needed the woodbut moreI needed the painRaccoon windshudders…
  • This morningwhen the chill that rises up from the ground is warmed,the snow is meltedwhere the small deer slept.See how the bodies leave their mark.The…
  • About the book: In 1938, nineteen-year-old ranch hand Bud Frazer sets out for Hollywood with his sights set on becoming a stunt rider in the movies–and…
  • Why Do I Sing? is a board book filled with soft watercolor images, painted by Andrea Gabriel, of honeybees, spotted owls, Pacific tree frogs, fin whales,…
  • Mine, said the stone,mine is the hour.I crush the scissors,such is my power.Stronger than wishes,my power, alone.Mine, said the paper,mine are the…
  • Three haiku verses from Tyler Knott Gregson's forthcoming collection All The Words Are Yours: Haiku On Love.I know not the whenor the why of all of this,I…
  • The forsythia eats sunlightnear the open barn doorwhere Bill Perry stands in his overalls watchinghis dappled-gray Percheron, Pike.The largest horse on…
  • As liquid verdigris or, shaded,Flowing onyx, the riverKnots, spinning looseDenticles of fresh cold, catchingA willow branch in a current circletWhere an…