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The Extension of the Dead

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Getting drunk, a friend called women
He had slept with, men he hated,
And then 911, repeating
"Emergency" like a schoolboy.

"Try 999," I suggested,
Giving him the hot-line number
That Malaysians, once, imagined
Was the extension of the dead,

Their calls, instead, directed to
The homes for police and firemen
And medical help, dispatchers
Picking up for thousands who thought,

Immediately, they had linked
With the calm voices of the dead.
Cautions? Disclaimers? Those callers,
Regardless, asked about heaven's

Lifestyle, what it meant to be dead.
They chanted incantations to
Ward off whatever might travel
Through phone lines from the afterlife.

"What's the story with you," my friend
Kept on repeating, receiving
Sympathy, curses, threats, a fine.
And the Malaysians? They, at last,

Asked for help with the lottery—
Because surely the selfless dead
Knew the winning numbers, the sort
Of thing you heard in paradise.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

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The Extension of the Dead

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