south central bell

a pay phone on the corner
rings unanswered.
it isn't mine.
I can't see the ocean
but I can taste the salt in the air.
hurrying past me
terms of endearment
are uttered
with the sincerity of a sneeze.
no one asks me
what I'm writing
or why
but they all eye me with suspicion.
and with good reason, of course.
I say I'm nearly through waiting
but it obviously hasn't been long enough.
not even a whisper of reprieve.
more pedestrian traffic weighs in
chatting cheerfully until they see me.
why am I here?
the foundation of metaphysics.
how long will I stay?
foundation and too much blush.
laughter spills out onto the sidewalk
with no one to clean up after it.
shops are closing right and left
and yet no one
wants to know
what I'm waiting for.
maybe that's not true.
maybe they all want to know.
maybe they all know already.
the flags are taken down.
the lights are turned off.
my hands are turning blue.
there are more reasons
to leave
than to stay
even though I only needed one.
the last pedestrian
was downright frightened.
am I so indistinguishable
from the shadows?
maybe I'll wait
until I've filled the page
although I've already said
far too much
about nothing at all.
I have a fantasy
in which I walk away
and finally hear the phone ring
only to continue walking
never turning back.
what will happen instead
of course
is that I'll stay here
until I freeze solid
and the phone will never ring.
every few steps
I will look over my shoulder
at the silent phone.
every few steps
I will hear it ringing
somewhere else.

Paul David Mena
22 March, 1996
Hermosa Beach, CA

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