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Published: Thu Jul 1 2004
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
Phobia Poems

Fear of the Telephone

Was it ever cheerful, that sound they call
ringing? More an alarm—I answer it
and am startled into blindness. I can’t find
the words to share with the air, faceless—
my ums fumbling alone along the line,
without my body, its silent excuses. And I suspect
the privacy of handsets, of transmitter and receiver.
Unempathetic emptiness, this room—
I want a witness
to what is told to me,
to what exactly is being asked.

Fear of Choking

It’s not me—I know what I can swallow—
it’s you, with your hard candy,
running around, breathing, as though breath were
sanctified—no; it may need saving.
And I’m unpracticed in such maneuvers
as you might need—in the sequences of
squeeze and pound, pinch and plead.
I like to think my feeble training would kick in,
but why should it? The world turns
bluer each day. Please take everything in small
bites. I can’t even save myself.

Fear of Neighbors

With beds, with televisions, with drapes
or no drapes, with cigarettes and lighter fluid,
with machines that blow and chew, with babies inexplicably
growing, with lawns of scolded children,
with restraining orders, with my misdelivered mail,
with security lights trained on my
pillow, my closed eyes, with polite overtures
tossed across my untrimmed hedge,
landing like cats among my birds—Oh neighbor,
take this cup of sugar—my only sweetness—
and go; I never wanted to be close.

Fear of Being Abandoned in a Shopping Mall

You could decide to leave me anywhere
but here—and I would find my way
to forgiveness. But when I lose your face
to the flock of mannequins—their fashioned
familiarity—I feel desperate as mirrors.
Look around—things keep changing and I’m sure
I’ve fallen behind and won’t catch up—
the chorus line of hosiery legs kicking,
the enfilade of fragrances. You have lost, somewhere,
your patience, hard as a pocketbook. I will
materialize at some point, like I always do.

Fear of Turning into Salt

It won’t be through turning back,
that much is clear; it will be through tears
melting the icy whatever else of me
and what I touch will dry up
and they will call this preservation,
a way to save the meat. Or they will
scatter me on winter roads
and prevent all kinds of accidents.

Fear of Trees Falling

I worry this might happen, the world will listen
to the fulminous wind and I’ll step outside to find it,
bewildered with branches, broken. They have been standing
so long—they forget why. I
could give up this way, collapse, cold—
soft as shame. Such trusting,
to walk through the woods,
our spines seemingly solid enough. I see today a limb
has landed on the lawn—shade makes
a clumsy symbol, unsubtle foreshadowing. I know
about climaxes, about many forms of falling.

Fear of Finding a Body in the Forest

It’s almost happened to us all—unaware,
we miss the bones among the needles. There was
the boy in the shallow grave, the rusted frame of his
bicycle. Or the despondent hiker
and his unlucky dog. Just off the path, a body awaits
my stumbling. The living are enough for me—
the way they’re always turning up. Nothing is truly
missing. Last week a man confessed
to burying dozens of women he’d killed—
he’d lost track; he’d lost his reason
for letting them lie. Such motives—and yet, I’m afraid
he was unmoved.

Mary Quade received the the 2003 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize for her collection Guide to Native Beasts. In 2001, she was awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship. She currently lives in Northeastern Ohio. (updated 2004)

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