by S.J. Dunning
WITHIN A TRUNK IN someone’s attic, a postcard depicts young girls using telephones to call their mothers. Their mothers are presumed to be dead. Tin Pan Alley’s “Hello, Central…” inspired the image. When I answered the telephone my muse painted in what seemed like a rush but probably wasn’t, the party on the other end—the painter herself, presumably—had to remind me that saying HELLO is proper etiquette for letting a caller know you’re there, twirling the coils of the cord on the other end of her/his transmission. HELLO? The cords on the telephones on the postcard that depicts young girls calling their mothers who are presumed to be dead are charged with symbolic power. The mothers could be LIGHT. The young girls may have fallen into the material world from a better realm. Where they landed—here—is like a long summer camp they didn’t really want to go to. They’re homesick. The telephone rings backstage during a rehearsal trapped inside the ribbon of a VHS home movie in my repertoire. HELLO? Someone says something about how everything is falling apart. Low low low goes the frequency of Jane Barbe’s special tones when I dial that space in time now from my innermost TELEPHONE. If there were an a priori tune I’ve been longing to hear again, even if it has a haunting quality, I’d guess it would open like that. Whatever the case might be, in my copy of his volume of The Great Masters, Picasso says you have to start with something. We’re all artists. The problem is remembering we are when we grow up. I’m the one smuggling rotary telephones into the digital era, reclaiming Jane Barbe’s intercept. I want to be resourceful with what’s left. HELLO! I can hear you now. Can you hear me? Please don’t hang up. This is not a recording.