“Calling Him Back from Layoff” by Bob Hicok

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones


“Calling him back from layoff,” by Bob Hicok, from Insomnia Diary. © University of Pittsburgh Press.


* A big thank-you to reader Clint B. for recommending this gut-wrenching poem to us. I found a video of Hicok reading his poem; it’s personal and stark and emotional and it lingers, in other words, it’s perfect. Thank you again Clint.


2 thoughts on ““Calling Him Back from Layoff” by Bob Hicok

  1. dlprodsrogerscom

    It’s funny. I started listening to him read the poem and I turned it off. I liked the way it sounded in my head so much better. I like longer pauses at the commas and the periods, letting the thoughts and images linger in the air.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so interesting! See to me his reading made it more “Real”. As if he were recounting a conversation he’d just had with someone two nights ago. Started so conversational in tone but then as the weight of his meaning grew, he did seem to slow down and let the words sink in and the ending was almost open-ended like an uncomfortable and unanswerable question lingering in the air between us.

      There was a gap of time between when I read the poem and when I watched the video so maybe that impacted my opinion? My own voice not so loud in my head, if that makes sense?

      Thanks so much for taking time to leave a note, I appreciate you.


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