My Dead Father Remembers My Birthday

By Lesley Wheeler

Featured Art: Birthday Party by Margaret Burroughs

Dream-phone rang and I thought: that’s exactly
his voice. I haven’t forgotten. Then: but I could
forget, because he’s dead. Hi, sorry it’s been so long,
but I was sick and the doctors messed everything up.

He made that shrug-noise, dismissive but pained,
meaning he’s lying or leaving something out.
It’s snowing here, and then a click, click, over the line,
and a neutral woman’s voice, slightly officious:
This recording was intercepted. If you wish to replay
this message, dial this number now,
and she recited
a blizzard of digits while I flailed
for a pen then found myself tangled in blankets.
The window a bruise beginning to fade.


Here mist wreathes the trunks. In a few months
snow will crisp the grass, insulate and numb the oaks
with feathery layers that would soak and freeze
a human being. When and where is he? Snug,
maybe, watching weather through double panes.
Or wanting to be. I heard a bead of doubt
suspended in his voice, a cool guess he’d missed
something, before my operator intervened,
reason declaring: This is memory. The line is cut.


Lesley Wheeler’s poetry collections are The Receptionist and Other Tales, a Tip- tree Award Honor Book; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; and Heathen. Her poems and essays recently appeared or are forthcom- ing in Subtropics, Gettysburg Review, Rattle, and Poetry, and she blogs about poetry at lesleywheeler.org. Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Originally published in NOR 15

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