American Culture · Collection · Contemporary · Poetry

Jessy Randall

Suicide Hotline Hold Music
       
We play cheerful music on the suicide hotline—
cheerful but not too cheerful.
Nothing with lyrics.

Sometimes, when I finally talk to them,
they’re crying, and sometimes they keep crying.
I fight the urge to tell them jokes.

Sometimes they get on my nerves.

Sometimes I ask them to see things from my point of view.
They gulp. They try. Even in crisis
they are polite.

I ask them where it hurts.
They always have an answer.

Here’s what they don’t know. When I play the music,
I’m still on the line. I listen to them breathing.
If their breathing slows, I keep playing
the hold music. I’m like a deejay and I’m like
a doctor. I adjust the music with care. I fine-tune,
giving them what they need at just that moment.

I’ll ask them to hold and play the music again.
I have a button I can press that makes the music skip.
The same sound repeats for twenty seconds.
When I get back on the line with them, they never fail
to let me know about the problem. They’re helpful.
“Thank you,” I say. “We’ll fix that for next time.”

It reminds them they are part of the world. Then
they tell me things, sometimes haltingly,
sometimes in one big rush. How they feel,
how bad it is.

I can keep them on the line for hours.

The main thing is to keep them on the line.

Jessy Randall, Hotline Hold Music. (Red Hen Press; 1 edition April 12, 2016)

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