'Our small talk numbing as a dial tone, serious as prayer'
A friend told me recently that he tries to keep in touch with people he's known even though they don't put any effort into doing that themselves. Here's William Trowbridge, who lives in Missouri, making an effort. His most recent book is Put This On, Please (Red Hen Press, 2014).
Long Distance to My Old Coach
The reception's not bad, across 50 years,
though his voice has lost its boot-camp timbre.
He's in his 80's now and, in a recent photo,
looks it, so bald and pale and hard to see behind
the tallowing of flesh. Posing with friends,
he's the only one who has to sit — the man
three of us couldn't pin. "The Hugger,"
they christened him before my class arrived —
for his bearlike shape and his first name, Hugh.
He fostered even us, the lowly track squad.
"Mr. Morrison," I still call him. "You were
the speedster on the team, a flash," he recalls
with a chuckle. That's where his memory of me
fades. And what have I retained of him beyond
the nickname, voice, and burly shape? The rest
could be invention: memory and desire's
sleight-of-hand as we call up those we think
we've known, to chat about the old days
and the weather, bum hips and cholesterol,
our small talk numbing as a dial tone,
serious as prayer.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2015 by William Trowbridge, 'Long Distance to My Old Coach,' from South Dakota Review, (Vol. 15, nos. 3 & 4, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of William Trowbridge and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2015 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06