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Telephone

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A mockingbird
perched on the hood
of a pay phone
half-buried in a hedge
of wild rose
and heard it ring

The clapper ball
trilled between
brass gongs
for two seconds
then wind
and then again

With head cocked
the bird took note
absorbed the ringing
deep in its throat
and frothed
an ebullient song

The leitmotif
of bright alarm
recurred in a run
from hawk
to meadowlark
from May to early June

The ringing spread
from syrinx to syrinx
from Kiowa
to Comanche to Clark
till someone
finally picked up

and heard a voice
on the other end
say Konza
or Consez or Kansa
which the French trappers
heard as Kaw

which is only the sound
of a word for wind
then only the sound of wind

Source: Poetry (July/August 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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Telephone

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  • Born in Canton, New York, Devin Johnston grew up in Winston-Salem and received his PhD from the University of Chicago. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Far-Fetched (2015), Sources (2008), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Aversions (2004), and Telepathy (2001). His prose writing includes the critical study Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice (2002) and Creaturely and Other Essays (2009). A former poetry editor for the Chicago Review from 1995-2000, Johnston co-founded and co-edits Flood Editions with Michael O’Leary.

    A lyric poet influenced by Yeats, Johnston whittles the lines of his poems, compressing imagery that is at once allusive and immediate. “While his lexicon is rich and particular, Johnston's line is severe, unadorned, and keenly cut to measure out the subtle, counter-pointed music which so strongly marks these poems,” observes poet Forrest Gander of the poems in Telepathy.

    He lives in St. Louis and teaches at Saint Louis...

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