Published on Academy of American Poets (


Phones were ringing

in the pockets of the living
and the dead

the living stepped carefully among.
The whole still room

was lit with sound—like a switchboard—
and those who could answer

said hello. Then
it was just the dead, the living

trapped inside their bloody clothes
ringing and ringing them—

and this was
the best image we had

of what made us a nation.


Copyright © 2017 by Wayne Miller. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“After the Pulse attack in Orlando, I read something about cell phones ringing while police and medical crews moved through the horror of the aftermath. I wanted to consider not just violence and loss, but also—in a non-judgmental way—the centrality of cell phones to contemporary life. And for a year or so the last stanza of William Matthews’s ‘Why We Are Truly a Nation’ has been running in my head.”
—Wayne Miller


Wayne Miller

Wayne Miller is the author of Post- (Milkweed Editions, 2016) andThe City, Our City (Milkweed Editions, 2011).

Date Published: 2017-08-09

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