Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Dial Tone

The Dial Tone

Two pieces to the telephone.
You’d lift the receiver from the base
and hold it to the side of your face.
The receiver was hard as a bone,

and the cord could stretch or retract
like a muscle. It looked like a spiral fry,
the cord, like a ringlet curl. Hi,
this is Hannah
, I’d say, and would ask

to speak with my friend. Because
there was no way of knowing who
was on the other end, reaching through.
To answer, you’d ask, Hello, then pause.

The caller could have been anyone.
It was exciting. A voice could surprise
you. It was easier to memorize
phone numbers. No, it was fun,

I’d make a little song out of the beeps
their sequence of keys made, the pitch
varied based on the key. You couldn’t switch
between calls. You would have to keep

the line open if you were expecting
a call. You knew that the phone
was working if there was a dial tone.
You could take the receiver, bring

it to your ear. Like one note hummed
by a robot, unwavering, like a vacuum
gargling, like a fridge in an empty room,
almost like music, dumbed down, numbed.


  1. Goodness, I remember all that stuff. I was the youngest in my family by nine years and the phone was a museum piece. The phone number was typed on a little laminated card in the middle of the dial, and it had a telephone exchange on it. MI-4-2313.
    The MI was for "Midwest". My mother *still* had that old black rotary phone when she moved out in the 1990s. She said the phone guy was freaked.

    Anyway, I loved the whole thing, but especially the end part with the machine music.

  2. Oh, Hannah! This is one of my favorites!

  3. Not so many years from now I imagine kids will see a phone and have to ask what it is, just as they do when they see a typewriter (as Maya Stein found out on her TypeRider journey).

    We used to have an antique wall phone; we used it, too.
    I wasn't (and still am not) tall enough to speaker into the part that was attached to the phone.

    I should add that I am nowhere near as old as that phone is.

  4. Fun. I have a phone poem, too. And I kept (bought) my rotary phone!! It's black.

  5. i grew up poor and backward enough that we didn't have a phone until i was 14 or 15 years old, and i have never really been comfortable talking into one -- not even a real phone, let alone some damned little star trek gadget ...

    i can remember my mother having to go to a neighbor's and ask to use the phone, when it became unavoidable ... that seemed embarrassing then, but now i envy the peace of my parents' house ...

  6. Yes, those dial tones...I do miss them especially for hanging up..I never know if I have been disconnected with the cell phones! : )

  7. I love it when you write about old technology :).

  8. And now you do anything with a phone except speak on it! Times change, but I remember the times you're talking about. Thanks for reminding.


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