At a certain level of stress
and constant beleagueredness
only telegrams arrive from the self.
Just telegrams, which you have never
seen except in movies—not
letters, emails, texts or phone calls.
It is the form need needs to take
when it is urgent and oracular,
dauntingly declared but not
easily or adequately answerable.
Brevity is constricted to a code
and delivery is by a series of discrete
stages, rapid and laborious
as disaster in the Golden Age:
lips in a lamplit circle
in an otherwise darkened room
speak haltingly into a mouthpiece,
down a wire to an ear
and fingers striking keys, again
in that aura of soft glow claimed from shadow,
and so on, down more wires, pulses of
meaning pass, changed but preserved,
until they become the slip of dire
handed to you at your own door
by a uniform without a face.
Standing at the kitchen sink, you read
in your hands under soapy water
what flashed up from your hands in the hall.
Ten typed words ending in STOP.
STOP is what holds you, what you keep
coming back to. The rest
is a cipher whose solution is STOP.
But stop what? Stop this? Stop that?
Stop everything? Answers but not
the answer rise up as the water
turns tepid and the bubbles pop and flatten.
This message, you decide, means mainly
that another message will arrive. STOP,
you recall or contrive, with relief
or the start of dread, comes
in the middle, not at the end.
Soon, you hope. Wish. Fear. Wait,
since you cannot pray. What
is the point of such a telegram?
you think, then say in an indignant mutter,
trying if confusion and dismay can
grope their way to a hard shoal
of bitterness, someplace to stand.
You know that you are informed
only of certain stark essentials
and by this that you are only a little
informed, and only from great distances.