If a Telemarketer

                          after Stephen Dunn

If a telemarketer calls you crying
at 7 pm on a Tuesday, and her voice is young
and thin and quivering like half-
dead spider legs and she is so clearly midwestern
and so blatantly under-experienced, stumbling over
a clunky script about childhood cancer, would
you hang up after the mention of her affiliation? Would you
hear the radio static of smoker’s
coughs in the background and say
“Take me off your list”? Or would you politely listen
to her teary pitch before saying “I’m not interested,”
or “Not right now” or “This is a bad time to talk”?
But then, when she chokes out
her rehearsed rebuttal, would you sigh and hang
up? Or would you understand
the covenant between caller and called, that
she is paid to be rejected and hates this as much as
you do. Would you then donate
fifteen reluctant dollars, feeling
sorry for the children with cancer or the girl
or yourself? Or ask skeptically how much
of this donation goes to these sick children? And when
the guilty truth slips out of “less
than 10%” would you scold her for
exploiting suffering for a living? For
profiting off pity? Calling you,
crying? Or would you recognize
her voice, an anxious child forced
to order for herself at a restaurant?
Would you hear in the connection how the phone
she holds is ancient and suspiciously
sticky, the fluorescent lights above her buzz.
Would you hear how the man at the next desk
eyes her thighs and how the woman on her left takes
loud swigs from a 2 liter of diet Mountain Dew
every five minutes and Frank Delano had threatened
suicide twice that night, how she keeps
this job because it’s a decent walk and her shoes
have begun to separate from their soles and she’s
struggling to pay for a school that will distance
her from the thigh-eyeing men and the
Mountain Dew-guzzling women while
slowly learning she’s no different from them? If
you were that telemarketer, that girl, would you cry?
Choke out a “thank you for your time”? An apology?
What would your relationship with pity be?
With empathy become? How long would it take until
you quit, or become a Frank Delano?


Elena Ramirez-Gorski is a queer Chicana writer from Adrian, Michigan. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Michigan and is an M.F.A. candidate at the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Gasher Journal, The Acentos Review, The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, Split Lip Magazine, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She is also an editor at Viscerama, a nonprofit youth literary magazine.