Northwords Now Issue 40

The FREE literary magazine of the North

449

by Ingrid Leonard

It was the phone number for the house
in which we sought each other in winter
storms, our family of four connected to others,
wires stretched on poles, tight-roped
under seabeds, from Stenness to Stronsay.

No great sweat for a child of seven to learn
and repeat, my fingers fit into hard-punched
holes as I turned the dial clockwise,
felt the elastic pull and click, till it righted
itself in a profusion of whirring.

Lightning entered the ear of a neighbour
when she answered, hand to elbow to head;
the wind clattered the windows
and obscured the voices of elders:
Don’t pick up the phone in a storm.

My father sounding my name as a question
through a hall of booths in Chachapoyas,
between cloud forest and jungle, where I gave
our number to the operator, my father
imprinting onto her through the line.

The operator was the god of long distance
in her draughty cabina. Her pressed blouse
and skirt spoke of care and attention,
as if from the air-laundered shelves
of kinswomen - the arable call of home.