Lisa Panepinto: Call Center

call center

wolf graffiti in my eyes
cold wind in my jaws
i ride to my job
on the skeleton crew
to try and reel in my meat
the most lonesome voice
at the most lonesome hour


sun for bones    ringing
thru galaxies of time and space   
please let my light be kind


i dial a poet
i dial a song


i dial a mother
a father
a sister
a friend


i know there are saints
in the starry


i dial the one
who said you don’t want to talk to me
i’m very political
and i’m very negative about this town
there’s no change   
it’s still segregated
wilkinsburg looks like it had a bomb dropped on it
it’s vietnam  
there’s no chance for upward mobility
i met an old woman who was a 100 years old
working as a bagger at giant eagle
i asked her why she does it she says she doesn’t have
money to survive on
i’d fall down if i tried to do it

i got out of this town when i was 18
told my mother i didn’t want to work in a steel mill
i come back here
it’s the same cracks on the sidewalks as there were then

there’s too much greed in politics
no one’s getting anything residual from this casino
you go in there your money disappears  

people don’t have money for gas to go across town
people are needy and they work long hours


island voices so much kinder on the line  
never hanging up on me
like ghosts
i mirror back
ancient mother over the river
holy faces leading me
to where the incense are
left burning on the sidewalk
and the men sell musk and cherry oil
and chew peppermint roots and smile


i dial a woman who tells me
i almost died    i saw myself dying
now i try to do for others    
that’s my task


i dial a woman who tells me
you have to have a gun to walk around town
and even then you better be quick to draw  


i dial a woman who says she doesn’t have a single friend
or family memberbut she feels close to the spirit


i dial a blind veteran
with an under 25k a year income  
no insurance
except the va

who wanders darkened
corridors for days


i dial a 98 year old who tells me during the depression
my father put a sign on the door    

we’ll feed you
as long as we can eat

then we fed others    
now everyone’s killing each other   
then everyone helped each other


i dial the one with an ongoing responsibility for her autistic son   
who’s got a rare liver disease at 64   
i don’t think about it    i don’t dwell   i just go on   


i dial an agoraphobic
who tells me she doesn’t really go outside
except when her niece picks her up
to take her to church


i dial a man who says my church is wherever i’m at


i dial a woman who’s 4’8 and weighs 89 pounds who tells me  
i don’t expect to need no services
how much longer can i live
i hope you live to the age you desirei say
people aren’t as courteous here as they were in greensburg   she says


i dial a nuke maker who works for western energy
i tell him i want a nuke free land
give me wild animals to talk to
who are kind   
and will help me make it
a feminine town
where we blend
and give


i dial the one who tells me
her mother said not to go to the house of the rising sun
had she known
she’d be going back in time to slavery  
she wouldn’t have come to the city

light flashing thru     the other world shining thru

as kids they ran thru tall grasses
tadpoles beetles snakes
now she gets squeamish   working in her garden
that’s what the concrete will do

before she wasn’t treated differently because of her color
but here they tell her
her hands are too nice for this job
she’s got a degree  


i’m glad youth surround me   dialing poets too
saying you should live on the riverbed with fox
and coyote running across the sky


i dial a seamstress
who works from home
projecting only goodwill and sun


i dial patti’s voice
her prayers in my ears
let me astral travel
praising the glory
of holding patti’s hand


i dial a woman
who tells me
her daughter died last month
now depression causes her to need help around the house
she wants to tell her next door neighbor   your daughter is gay
as if her own daughter wasn’t the same
next questioni say


islanders bring half lit cigarettes on the bus
leaving bits of tobacco in the seats
as ceremony
bright trees melding with me
a little hash is key


i dial the vietnam vet talking nukes might be cast
who says he’s got every kind of medical ailment
and the doctors can’t fix it
agent orange bone
hearing    nerve damage    pain & unhappiness  
100 pieces of metal in my body   
godbless the ones in more pain
if you have kids never send them to such an awful place

buffy sainte-marie in my head
he’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
his orders come from you and me no more


in the break room
the workers talking about
mutated animals
me saying   i’m giving voice to the trees


i dial the follower of the east
orthodox siberian church
laughing happy husky voice
asking me you do this all day?
dark blue earth river
she takes care of her sister
who has down syndrome
but says it’s not stressful  

wind cleans us


dreamsticks exchanged on the bus
coming home from work

praying for protection of the children
in the night

sisters on the bus together
wearing matching winter coats

the world on time

bless bike messenger mike
whose friend lost his life
on the lean streets
the blue steel
broken glass side of the bridge

fading like factory runoff
into the river
jagged pieces of wood fallen
from logging trucks
bottles turned to pipes
encased by burning lips

i weaved through speeding trucks
onto industrial island
built over native burial ground
where the senecas have always lived
my body rides a knife edge

i go to the courier  
corporation training
where youth talk about just being released
by the feds
wearing shiny black shoes now
going thru the motions
howling   you got everything you need?
woman’s voice answering low
i just want to work and study

the human resources officer
said god opens all doors
you will get a job when it’s your time
body control cannot be taught it’s mental
you must become industrial athletes  
she was heavy but ran with electric ribs

all the pieces i have been
country and rhythm and song
now i must serve  
how might i serve

a maverick biking to the factory
seeing life pulse around me
the living ground and water ignored by so many
i feel criminal for being a woman who sees
the leaves breathe as i look for work

the human resources officer
moved me out of her way like a package
covered in protective light survival ache
money the indignity we must face
mother sun lifting me over
eagles coming to life from the stones

carry me across bridges
a fox just released from a steel jaw
i race for my life

do the drivers yell at me because i’m a woman
i whispered to bike messenger mike
no they’re just not aware of their surroundings
he said
sun glinting in his brown eyes
his ragged shoes and skinny body
i asked him about being a bike messenger
you do it because you love it
you don’t make any money at it
it’s like any passion he said

the angels are everywhere
the wise sunlight brings them
oh river i’m with you oh sumac and jay
invisible across train tracks
loving the sun so much
i go inside her
i’ve got to reappear sometimes  
listen and be kind

i glide a living miracle
untouched by the scream of the train

please bless the youth looking for work
and the ones who toil on the factory floor
a maze of conveyor belts
a hustling family melting together
in underground machinery
their bodies turn the clock
a calculated rush
for so little money
not even enough to survive on   

mike says i’m going save up a lot of money
so i can get out of this town
go to new york or chicago

i stand gutted by the knowledge
that the world on time
is the sweat blood and tears of workers

i think i’m too small for this job
we say to each other
but i’ll apply anyway mike says
riding invisible thru rusted trucks
& glass ruts

the geese were gone this morning
the ducks remain
my silt skin
spit rain
guttural moans as i ride on the will of the air

kids on the bus shouting in fury of coal fumes
their parents down in the mine all day
with nothing left in the night but survival

a kid throws a splintered piece of maple out the bus window
it lands at my feet   
it becomes a maple tree on the sidewalk
i glow under its branches
blue leaves and iridescent bark
we bloom from the magic bus
i disappear into sparrow flock
sun dancing over city roofs  

bringing you forth green islands
rising from the trees in the river grounds again

Lisa Panepinto is the author of two poetry collections, On This Borrowed Bike (Three Rooms Press, 2013) and Island Dreams (Cabildo Press, 2009). Her writing has appeared in The Accompanist, Maintenant, Pittsburgh City Paper, Planet Drum, Red Flag Poetry, and more. She is poetry editor for Cabildo Quarterly, an online and print literary journal.