At first it was just a gift, the batteries not included,
but wrapped neatly in a smaller box, a matching
bow with the same generous loop of silver, its paper
the same gaudy green. Try it out, she told him,
and so he did. Is this the way I sound? he said.
Is this the way I sound? it told him, and then
he chuckled and learned the way he chuckled.
He found that tapes were cheap and began taping
everything. On his way to work he taped the car
radio, the transmission shifting gears. At lunch
it was the cafeteria, he taped the commotion and
spent each afternoon untangling conversations
from the squeaking chairs, the clattering trays.
Sometimes he recorded his wife in bed in secret,
and he hid those tapes in the garage. But what he
loved most was his own voice, not the sound itself,
but the newness of it, the mystery of a stranger
knowing every last detail. The red light flickered
for days, which broke perfectly into 90-minute
intervals he labeled with a ballpoint pen. Soon
he realized that it wasn’t one voice in there,
in his chest, but a whole colony of tones and
inflections ready to rise up and serve its purpose.
What a noble thing, he told the microphone,
this army of voices always prepared. Words
to his wife in public were different in the bedroom.
Around men there was strength in Hello.
And maybe he mumbled more than he’d like,
and he wasn’t proud of the bar voice, but singing-in-
the-shower voice often brought a tear to his eye.
(His father voice grunted at the show of emotion.)
How easily we slough the shell of our character, he said
in the poet’s voice, lifting an invisible glass of
sweet champagne—as if it were something to toast.
—from Poetry Midwest #12