The Answering Machine

By Linda Pastan b. 1932 Linda Pastan
I call and hear your voice   
on the answering machine   
weeks after your death,   
a fledgling ghost still longing   
for human messages.   

Shall I leave one, telling   
how the fabric of our lives   
has been ripped before   
but that this sudden tear will not   
be mended soon or easily?   

In your emptying house, others   
roll up rugs, pack books,   
drink coffee at your antique table,   
and listen to messages left   
on a machine haunted   

by the timbre of your voice,   
more palpable than photographs   
or fingerprints. On this first day   
of this first fall without you,   
ashamed and resisting   

but compelled, I dial again   
the number I know by heart,   
thankful in a diminished world   
for the accidental mercy of machines,   
then listen and hang up.

Source: Poetry (August 2000).


This poem originally appeared in the August 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

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August 2000
 Linda  Pastan


Poet Linda Pastan was raised in New York City but has lived for most of her life in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. In her senior year at Radcliffe College, Pastan won the Mademoiselle poetry prize (Sylvia Plath was the runner-up). Immediately following graduation, however, she decided to give up writing poetry in order to concentrate on raising her family. After ten years at home, her husband urged her to return . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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