just the voice traveling wires and space
orphaned in the wind and solar breeze
carried by mysterious chance to destination

I do not talk to people   only disembodied voices
whose languages I barely understand
straining for some mutual recognition of word or intonation
like an infant learning speech   language is a complex thing
my hesitation at slow understanding
causing the receptionist to say “allo?” repeatedly
while I attempt to decipher meaning from simple words

at my pronunciation of a name they immediately lapse into English
even with my best attempt at French   they know
I have Anglo written in my speech
tattooed to my tongue   incised on my throat
so embarrassingly obvious at moments like this
finding myself apologizing for ignorance
not bliss but awkwardness

fumbling for French
hand gestures   facial expressions
“here, let me write it for you”
do not convey over phone lines
limited to speech   to language
anguishingly aware of its limitations

and me in broken French trying to ask if M. Brochard is on vacation
her in broken English saying no, she will get him
the taped voice message saying “Please hold. We will connect you.”
in a fine BBC accent   seemingly incongruous
we are having a multi-European conference call   me the foreigner

a baroque breeze filters through the phone lines as I wait on indefinite hold
not sure what or who I’m waiting for   wishing for fluency I fall far short of
too short even for courtesy
thinking of the call to Norway
the answering machine’s long message as much of a mystery
as the one I have left

or the call to Sweden
the lilt of the operator’s recorded message
telling me the number has been changed and giving the new one
me unable to decipher the code of language
the words a barrier to communication

in Abu Dhabi at least the message is repeated in English
something I can understand
after the initial shock of guttural pronouncement

and I still can’t get that number in Andorra to work
the satellite misconstruing my intent
“Sorry, Mercury cannot complete the call as dialed.”

me flipping through the atlas curious at the sudden proximity of distance
and calculating the difference in time
I can phone mainland Europe until eleven   the UK until noon
trying to determine when to place calls to Singapore   to Japan   Australia
concerned because I know no words of Japanese
that would be suitable   can’t even attempt broken speech

lost in the mumblings of this electronic babel
trapped in the digital sand of this intangible existence

<previously published rampike>

© Catherine Jenkins, 2015