Wrong Numbers

By G. Murray Thomas


Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield.
The broken glass is an illegible scrawl across my driver’s seat.
I can only make out a few angry obscenities.
I never use language like that.
I wonder whose phone number is printed on my license plate.
Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield.
The message on my answering machine is asking for spare change.
“Just twenty cents, please, so I can make another call.”
Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield.
When I answer the phone, a voice asks about the earthquake last night.
“Did you feel it too?”
But it was just helicopters, low over the house,
their searchlights checking my driveway
for drug dealers, prostitutes and kids with skateboards.
Or else one of those monster jobs out of Pendleton,
hauling Marines off to exercises somewhere,
I hope it’s just practice this time.
Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield.
And faxing me bills for toys I never bought.
I don’t even own a TV, what would I want with
the Time-Life video cassette library of history’s greatest massacres,
complete with annual updates.
Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield,
and spray painting graffiti on my tailgate
and telling me it’s art.
There’s even a price tag on it.
I can tell it’s the real thing, because the price is so damn high.
Someone is dialing wrong numbers on my windshield.
The ringing in my ears
is an alarm clock ticking.

First published in: Thrust Magazine, Issue 4, Fall 1994
Also Published in: Cows on the Freeway, iUniverse Press

When/how did you start writing poetry?

I wrote my first poem at 8 or 9. Basically as soon as I learned that poetry existed. I don’t remember it at all, except I’m sure that it rhymed.

The important thing is that I have always written stuff, and have never restricted myself to a single form or genre. I usually go through periods where I will focus on one genre or another, and then I’ll move on. It’s the writing, not the form, that’s important.

I cranked out a ton of poems when I was in high school, late nights banging away on an old typewriter. Then I went to college, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, to study creative writing. They gave me my degree, but basically told me my poetry sucked. So I hardly wrote any poetry for the next ten years.

Which was okay, I was totally focused on fiction at the time. In 1987, I moved to Southern California. I was deep into writing a novel at that point. But I started going to Laguna Poets (I lived in Laguna Beach) primarily to meet other writers. But I quickly started writing poetry again, just so I could get up and read.

Eventually, after seven years of working on it, I finished a first draft of that novel. And I realizing it had substantial problems, I needed to go back to page one and start again. I couldn’t face that, so I switched my creative energy to poetry. I could finish a poem.

Was it a difficult transition?

Not really. I did both for about three or four years before I finally put the novel away. Some of my first poems were actually paragraphs out of the novel, chopped into shorter lines. I was attending poetry readings regularly, and was constantly inspired. I was already pretty deeply involved in poetry.

So you found poetry readings to be inspiring?

As a newcomer to California, I got most of my initial inspiration from the obvious. Most of my poems at that time were about one of two subjects: the ocean, and the freeway. But the readings got my juices flowing. I did some of my most productive writing while driving home from various readings. I would assemble a poem in my head, but not even try to write it down until the next morning. I figured that if I couldn’t remember it the next day, it probably wasn’t worth remembering.

Then you started publishing a magazine…

Yeah, a little thing called Next… I started out publishing books. I set up a company called Orange Ocean Press (from a line in one of my poems). I wanted to focus on poetry anthologies on “unpoetic” topics. The first book was a collection of short stories and poetry about surfing, called Paper Shredders. (It is currently available in an expanded edition from iUniverse.com.) I had plans for books on restaurants and laundromats. But then I got distracted into the magazine biz.

Next… was a monthly magazine covering SoCal poetry. We had a calendar of readings, plus news, reviews and interviews. We distributed it free throughout the region. It lasted for four and half years, but lost money every year, and I finally had to give it up.

Perhaps ironically, I all but stopped writing poetry completely while I was putting it out. All my creative energies went into Next… But that was okay, it was a creative project itself. I just considered it another change of form.

Right now I’m working with Write Bloody Press to produce an anthology of the best writing from Next… It will provide a snapshot of a crucial period in the development of American poetry, 1994 – 1997. Slams, the internet and poetry tours were all in the early stages of their growth. During that time they came together to essentially create the world of poetry that exists today. Next… provided a ground level view of that transition.

Write Bloody, by the way, is a top notch poetry press. Run by poet Derrick Brown, they’re publishing some of the most exciting voices in poetry right now, poets like Buddy Wakefield, Mindy Nettifee and Mike McGee.

Much of what Next… did, including the monthly calendar, is now being carried out at Poetix.net, where I am calendar and reviews editor.

After Next… folded?

I pretty much lay fallow for a few years. Mostly I wrote book and CD reviews for a variety of zines and websites, primarily Skratch and The Independent Reviews Site. During that time I also published Cows on the Freeway, a collection of my poetry from the previous ten years (also currently available from iUniverse).

Then I went back and finally finished that novel. It’s a mystery story about a guy with amnesia. It’s currently looking for an agent and/or publisher (hint, hint).

Any poetry?

At first just the occasional poem. Then I had some health problems, kidney failure, in fact. I spent seven years on dialysis. I finally got a new kidney in April of this year. I was part of a chain of transplants. I received a kidney from a stranger in Chicago (who I have just met online; her name is Jodi Tamen, and she’s a wonderful person, as you might expect from the fact she gave a kidney to a total stranger), and then my sister (who was not compatible with my blood type) gave a kidney to someone in Salt Lake City. His wife donated a kidney to someone else, and so on. An amazing thing.

Anyway, illness turned out to be very inspiring. I wrote a lot of poems about it, especially in the last year. The day after I got out of the hospital after my transplant, I rough drafted some six poems. Right now I am polishing up a manuscript of poems directly and indirectly connected to all that.

Anything else?

I’m having a lot of fun writing about rock music. I’m writing a series of essays about the development of Rock over the past 40 years from the perspective of the average fan. Who would be me. It gives me an excuse to brag about all the great concerts I’ve seen, while, hopefully, saying something serious about our relationship with art along the way.

The pieces are currently being published at Poetic Diversity (www.poeticdiversity.org), under the title “A Personal History of Rock’n’Roll,” and on Ground Control (www.groundcontrolmag.com) under the label “the Aging Punk.” Both are excellent websites, by the way. I am hoping one day to assemble all the essays into a book. Which means yet another manuscript almost ready to go. Seriously, any agents out there?