Joanne Merriam


He's refusing to take his meds, Mom tells me.
Says they're poison. I'm in Tennessee,
of not much use to his daughter,
while he's losing his mind one cell at a time up there.
When I ask how his birthday went, he says, "Oh, yes."
I tell him I love him by telephone.

The chickadees are calling from the hedges. The telephone
just mocks me.
Dogwood, redbud, Bradford pear, magnolia, cherry blossoms: yes,
spring's gorgeous in Tennessee,
the tornadoes were north of here, I'm fine. I'm there
along with the civil war re-enactors on the news, with Courtney's daughter

learning the alphabet with fridge magnets, with my sister's daughter
learning how to wear big girl pants and talk on the telephone,
with my husband rubbing my back, right there
with the wren's nest in the maple: me,
writing this sestina about Rex and Tennessee.
All fuck yous to loss and one giant yes

to memory, to the quiet hour before sunrise. Yes,
yes, let's have a daughter,
yes, cicada night noises in backyard Tennessee,
yes, I know I don't have to answer the telephone,
useless contraption which only serves to make me
wish I could be there.

On second thought, I'm glad I'm not there
when I ask what he did today and he says, "Oh, yes,
you too dear." Mom doesn't ask me
how we can still be their daughters
when we're their parents, or why the telephone
is the best I can do from Tennessee.

"You're calling from Tennessee?
I know somebody who lives there,"
my grandfather tells the telephone.
I say, "Yes,
Grampie, that's me. I'm Sharon's daughter.
I'm your granddaughter. You know me."

In Tennessee, it's easy to say yes,
I am there for you, his daughter.
But I am. Phone me.

Joanne Merriam is the author of The Glaze from Breaking (Stride, 2005). Her work has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Prick of the Spindle and Third Wednesday, and previously in Stirring. This originally appeared in Orbis Quarterly. You can find her online at

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