Poetry: Maintenance Request Hotline by Elizabeth Langemak

In “Maintenance Request Hotline,” the speaker lists a number of “non-emergencies” from the perspective of a contemporary woman living in the city. As the poem implies, they are not emergencies, after all, because women have no choice but to casually adjust to an inherently intrusive world, including that which man has created.


Maintenance Request Hotline

The mouse, like a nearly invisible dart, is not an emergency, unless

your body is just a grown shell for a girl.  The sound of a sink clearing

its throat while you eat is not an emergency, but the sound

of emergencies past.  A kitten outside is not an emergency, either,

though it will be if you bring it inside.  The maintenance man who waits

in the parking lot to praise your whole unabridged body is not an emergency,

but he is if he speaks to your daughter.  You say your carbon monoxide

detector is blinking?  You mean winking.  Not an emergency yet.  We’ll see.

Whether or not someone once died in this room is less an emergency than a probable

certainty, and the answer to the question of how long she lay there, her hair

wagging in a window unit breeze like the shredded ends of a flag, is three.

Three what is not an emergency.  Once, the hallway ceiling caved in, and we all

came to see, because we’d been wondering what an emergency looked like.  Being

alone with whomever comes up to recalk your shower while dust crawls, slow

as spacemen, through sluices of sun is not an emergency because you called us,

right?  The brown liquid rooting its way under the paint on your wall

is not an emergency because we know what it is, just as the leak in your ceiling

is not an emergency, because we know where that came from, and the answer

is us.  If the fire alarm puts its red arm to its head for more than ten minutes,

and you’re still alive, that’s not an emergency.  Come out in the yard in your robe

while we wait for the truck.  See over there?  Those boys without mittens kicking

your snowman aren’t emergencies, but the sound of emergencies coming.


Elizabeth Langemak

Elizabeth Langemak lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in AGNI Online, Shenandoah, Pleiades, The Colorado Review, Literary Imagination, Sugar House Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

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