Susannah Habecker © 2018

Susannah Habecker © 2018








by Nils Peterson

lost Ohio


day’s end
the son
drives home
with the father
from distant work

a dark sea
wells up
from the fields

the big car floats
over the road

far off

just before
the horizon

lights bob
up and down

soon villages
pass in the night

an old moon
in a catch of elms

a steady wheel
the father flickers
in and out,

in and out

Talking to the Operator


1950, I’m 16, freshman at a small Kentucky college,
Breckinridge Hall, men’s dorm, in the entrance at the bottom
of the stairwell, one phone, long distance too expensive
to use except to ask home for money – one late fall night, 
loneliness dark in the air, three of us just come back separately
from somewhere, reluctant to go to bed, standing by the black
instrument fixed to the wall, earpiece hanging from a black wishbone,
connected by a brown wire to the box with a miniature
megaphone-like thing jutting out, Big T. Gross says in Southern
“Let’s call the operator, Let’s call the operator and sing her a song.”
So he picks up the earpiece, someone of the female
persuasion answers, “What number are you calling please?” 
Who was she? Young or old? Couldn’t tell, but I imagined her
young and pretty and lonely like us, sitting in front of all
those wires ready to plug something into something
so someone could speak to someone. So we began
singing. Can’t remember what, some song we all knew, 
loud and boisterous? “Good Old Mountain Dew?”
soft and sweet “The Moonlight Shines Tonight Along The Wabash?”
just don’t remember, anyway, after the song, we took
turns chatting until some local made a call and she
hung up on us to connect someone else to someone else.
I’ve thought of her off and on through the decades
sitting by her midnight switchboard waiting. I’ve sung
in many a fine concert with many a fine chorus, 
but this morning this is the one I remember and I seem  
to be hoping the operator found the right number
to plug in and went on unlonely to have a good life. 

Nils Peterson is Professor Emeritus at San José State University where he taught in the English and Humanities Departments. He has published poetry, science fiction, and articles on subjects as varying as golf and Shakespeare. His latest poetry collection is A Walk to the Center of Things. In 2009, he was chosen to be the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.