This morning a lady rang up wanting to know
if I was Richard. This had never happened before.
Many people have wished I was someone, sometimes someone
I was before, sometimes someone I should be
– look scared for a change, talk like a nun, jump up and down,
can’t you wear a skirt for once –
but no one’s asked me for Richard.
(Meanwhile the silence on two sides is murmuring in my ear.)
There is another life before I answer, crammed with possibility,
the material I am made up of could just as easily have had
a different name or form. What if I said yes,
yes, it’s me, Richard. Is that you, Mother?
It’s been so long.
Would becoming Richard make me Richard, including his body,
breath, secrets, the way he ties his laces in the morning?
Does he like parsnips, for instance?
Would his mother break the connection
or in her tenacity,
Is Richard still alive or does she always phone someone else,
asking for him because who knows maybe someone will say,
Richard? Sure. He’s upstairs.
Don’t let anyone tell her that Richard drowned, that he’s
lost or been kidnapped or killed in a crash. Wasn’t there
a party somewhere, a man? Did I not just know Richard
but also kiss him, talk to him, drink
his wine, did we laugh together?
Now, right now, it is still possible to not make a sound,
to hang up or start crackling bags as if we – unfortunately –
are snowed in, I can’t hear you.
I imagine her standing in a dark room, a quizzical look.
But what about me? Where do I find a Richard at this hour?
I’m sorry, honesty compels me to tell you
that I am not Richard, never have been,
no idea otherwise, and although our numbers
may vary only slightly, our lives are separated
by an eight, a four, a two.
There are people who differ less than one digit from me
but their mothers don’t know me, wouldn’t call me.
You’re wasting your time, I’m only made up of half voices,
half faces, not worthy of a Richard, I never gave
anyone more than half-hearted presence.
(I hear determined silence on the line.)
Listen, I don’t know who to, but I’ll pray with you
that someone will succeed.
That someone will succeed in being Richard.