Sharon Thesen: "The Receiver"

In a dream the other night
I was on the phone, one of those rotary-dial
black desk phones & looking out the windowa
window you lift up from the bottom
to stick your head outside to a night-time scene
as in Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice

- -Ingrid Bergman’s lover in the phone booth out on the street
where cars pass in the rain.  It takes him a while to dial.
Coins pushed into the slot.

The Human Voice is a one-woman show,
all her side of the conversation
but I don’t remember anything she actually says.

There is a lot of murmuring, perhaps some pleading, some
push-back.  She’s lying on the bed crying, they’d hang up,
then the phone would ring once more.  She’d lean into
the receiver, her beautiful voice and mouth, and
breaking heart.    I imagine the receiver holding
the whole story inside.

In my heart a dream once presided of respite
and within that dream the small silver key to unlock it.
Respite from worries, from pleading with fate.
But, as Camus insists,
Sisyphus was happy, bound only to his fate & nothing else.

I imagine Sisyphus glancing outward
at the top of his effort to check which constellation
shone upon him then, whose story
fixed its fixed eye upon him

- -condemned for what? I wonder.
I should google the myth of Sisyphus
and while I’m at it,
the myth of this
and the myth of that.


People lying on the beach will tend to murmur
but seldom converse.  Albert Camus, author of The Stranger,
Revolt, The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus,
and Summer in Algiers says the sun is God,
that we have exiled beauty, and that the body
is happiest in sunshine, in a sea-blue and sun-yellow world.

Other worlds have their charms and attractions,
more nuanced and even more hopeful
than the mere tans of others just off the plane
from Cabo San Lucas or Honolulu.

How would we know they were happy?
we might ask.
A tan.


It was one of those rotary-dial phones that sat on a credenza—
the kind you always answered.
These phones rang in Hollywood movies for many many years.
A dame in an evening gown would stride over,
pick up the receiver, say hello, and glare at the fellow
holding her ermine stole. It will be awhile before everything
is sorted out, and this is why it’s a story.

There would be whirlwinds of emotion such as someone might feel
returning from the plunge pools of Puerto Vallarta to the chilly rays of March
and testamental trees’ fretful, cursive branches
in which an owl might sit saying hoo-hoo-hoo
& you would say who, me?  And it would say yes, you. 

You might wind up playing a role you only dreamed of
such as being a human voice in a telephone receiver,
the kind you had to lift out of what was called the cradle
and replace afterwards in the cradle’s prongs.  When it rang again
with a sharp European ring she knew it would be him, she knew
it would be eternal, so she lifted the receiver once more.  

Sharon Thesen was born in 1946 and grew up in small towns across western Canada, mostly in B.C. She is currently Professor Emerita of Creative Writing at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Prior to 2005, when she began teaching at UBC Okanagan, she taught English and Creative Writing at Capilano College (now University) in North Vancouver, where she was also an editor of The Capilano Review. She has published many books of poetry, most recently A Pair of Scissors, The Good Bacteria, and Oyama Pink Shale (all from House of Anansi Press); and among other editing work, including an edition of Phyllis Webb’s poetry, The Vision Tree, has edited two editions of The New Long Poem Anthology (Coach House and Talonbooks).