“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

hear?

“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.

 

“My Most Recent Position Paper” by Bob Hicok

A little bit of hammering
goes a long way toward making
the kind of noise I want my heart
to look up to—or have you ever
gone into a woods and applauded the light
that fights its way to the ground,
and the shadows, and the explosions
of feathers where blue jays
have been ripped into the bright
and hungry future of hawks—
and there’s this—writing an etude
by pushing pianos off a cliff
until one of them howls or whispers
just so—like a vagrant
slipping into a clean bed
or a man lifting a dying child
toward the sun and begging help,
rescue—if my eyes could speak,
they’d be mouths—the tongues
of my fingers ask to be words
against your skin—and when I
was a librarian, I lost my job
for exhorting patrons to sing
“Bye Bye Miss American Pie”—
it’s not what we do here, I was told—
yet I know this is a world
made by volcanoes, and don’t want
to keep this awareness of kaboom
to myself—so have picked up
my zither and begun walking
and strumming like an idiot
who thinks music is all
a body needs to feed itself—
and though I haven’t eaten
in years, I have been fed.

“My Most Recent Position Paper” by Bob Hicok. Copyright © 2016 by Bob Hicok. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.


“American Pie” by Don McLean