22 pages 44 minutes read

Martha Collins

Again Later

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2020

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Symbols & Motifs


Two things about the occasion for this poem indicate that the speaker is lonely. First, the speaker knows service has been cancelled, but she calls her dead husband’s phone numbers anyway (and as the “again” in the title suggests, likely calls them repeatedly). Second, instead of hanging up (as most people do when they get an intercept message), she stays on the line and listens. Only a lonely woman would do these two things. Where once the speaker had a husband she could call, now she only has an automated “intercept message.”

Moreover, beyond the set-up, loneliness underlies the poem itself. Instead of the back and forth of conversation, “Again Later” repeats. Where once the speaker had an interlocutor, now she only has the cycle of her grief.

The Second Person

“Again Later” uses the second-person pronoun “you” throughout. This pronoun comes from the phone company’s intercept message, which addresses callers as “you,” but the “you” could also refer to the speaker or her husband. In some ways, “you” is an impersonal pronoun—it can refer to any other person—and this is why the phone company uses “you” in their intercept message. In other ways, “you” is deeply personal—it is difficult to hear “you” without feeling addressed—and this is exactly what the speaker feels when she hears “you” on the intercept message.