Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Telephones from the 50s

Nisei, remember the party line?
How you shared the same line,
The same mornings,
The same problems—
My girl is sick, the check was mailed late,
The irrigation pump doesn’t work—
Two hundred for the man to come out.

Life on the nisei family farm… 
If Mrs. Oda lifted the black telephone
And another voice was there,
She set it back into the cradle,
Looked up at the clock,
Maybe folded baby clothes,
Maybe cut coupons from the newspaper,
Maybe ironed a shirt,
Maybe took a broom to the spiders
Near the ceiling.

(Water drip from the kitchen sink,
Tractor roar near the barn,
Dog barking just to bark,
Sunlight hot as an iron on the sill.
She looked at the telephone, looked and looked.)

Mrs. Oda smoothed the front
Of her dress—printed with chickens,
Little white fences, roses faded from the wash.
She could have cooked rice,
Chopped green onions and carrots,
Nappa if one was in the fridge.
Elbows on the kitchen table,
She could have examined her book
Of Green stamps.  

At a quarter to five
She lifted the receiver of the phone.
She called her sister-in-law on the next farm
To say that she had folded clothes,
Ironed and cut coupons,
Swiped the broom at spiders,
And saved the better part of the nappa.

Her sister-in-law would say,
“I did those very things—
Okazu’s for supper.
You could come over
But looks like you’re having the same.”

Credit


Copyright © 2016 by Gary Soto. Used with permission of the author.

Author


Gary Soto

Born in Fresno, California, in 1952, Gary Soto is a poet, novelist, and children's author known for his reflections on the Chicano experience.

Date Published: 2016-11-28

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/telephones-50s