The Callout 

                         by Loren Kwan



Out of my sleep, out of my bed, 

                              Cold from the sheets, I am taken. 


                                                           Peter is taken. Katie from graduation. 

                          Chris from his work. Nails in their box.


Hair in the drain. Everyone’s gone. 


                                                 The page has gone out. Lover’s unloved


Will wait at our doors. We may be back. But they will be taken. 

                                                                             Loneliness comes



And god is alive 

                                                   When things go missing. 

                               I miss my cousin. 

Oh, god, his heart 

                                               Has stopped and sadly he’s dead. 

                                                                              Edgar’s been dead. No one comes back.


The call to come back 

                               Goes over the air. Once lost now found, 

               Our job is done. The cops have been called. 

                                                                                                                 They are to come 

                                                                             Soon to be saying

Nothing to see. So move along. Nothing 

              To see here. Though pictures are taken. Face on the ground.


                                                                                                    Prints on the neck. 


                         The bare ass is plump in the air. Asshole inviting. 

                   Always a girl. Always a girl. 


          Where are they from? Where do they go? Why do I follow? 

                                 I am a girl. I am the girl. 


          Come to the end. See how it ends. See why it ends. See if it’s god. 

                                                         Say that it’s not. 








“The Callout” is an eschatological tour de force. With tremendous speed, Loren Kwan telegraphs deaths, any one of which deserves elaboration, but the poet rejects each narrative for a disquieting lyric. He leaves behind poem after poem. Why?


After the litany of losses, so personal as to name names, a central, dead figure emerges. There has been a terrible crime. Kwan doesn’t write layers of heightened detail to stair-step us to our responses. He deploys short, anaphoristic phrases, fragments, and questions. In this taut environment of little enjambment and much repetition, the number of short o's, little sublminal targets, must set a kind of record for a one-page poem. 


The reader wonders, is the central event tragic? histrionic? erotic? pornographic? Also, the reader is implicated as a protagonist—how does Kwan do this? He calls in the cops (rhyming “cop” with “job,” “god,” “stopped,” etc.), against whom we take a position in the drama. We are caught, reprimanded: “Nothing to see. So move along.”


What strike me are the speaker’s responses, which we share, because we are among those called out by Kwan to the scene of the crime—“pictures are taken,” i.e. by us (one can practically see the yellow police tape, although none exists in the poem.) At first, the speaker admits to being charged erotically by the victim’s exposure. But the sensual language of “plump” swiftly shifts to the gross, “asshole.” The poet continues to hurdle (us) through a series of transformations, not the least of which is the about-face of the speaker, who first fetishized the victim, but now identifies with the murdered: “I am the girl.” 


“I am the girl” could serve as the ending for this great poem, worth reading for its feminist, empathetic epiphany. But Loren Kwan pursues the mortally wounded figure. “See if it’s god. Say that it’s not.” It is, isn’t it? This inhuman crisis becomes a parable of spiritual longing and loss, a ritual drama. 









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