Dusting The Phone

Jackie Kay

‘Dusting The Phone’ by Jackie Kay is a a monologue of a woman yearning for a single phone call from the man she loves.


Jackie Kay

Nationality: Scottish

Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet who is also well-regarded for her dramatic writing.

Some of her best-known works are Trumpet and Red Dust Road.

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‘Dusting The Phone’ by Jackie Kay is a free verse poem that is written as a monologue of a woman yearning for a single phone call from the man she loves. This poem explores how a person’s thought process can be so disturbed as a result of obsessing over one thing. It also discusses the importance of being honest with yourself and admitting your deepest thoughts and desires to yourself so that you can find a way to move forward with your life. You can read the full poem here.

Dusting The Phone by Jackie Kay


Dusting The Phone Analysis

First Stanza

I am spending my time imagining the worst that could happen.
spending my time going over the best that has been happening.

The first stanza of Kay’s ‘Dusting The Phone’ presents a character who seems to be obsessing over her relationship. The title alone gives the reader the context of this poem, the character is obviously waiting for a phone call that means a lot to her.  The first line sets the tone for ‘Dusting The Phone’ by informing the reader that this character spends her time lost in her thoughts and mostly focuses on the negatives instead of the positives. The character is evidently speaking to herself throughout this entire poem thinking up reasons of why her phone isn’t ringing. The second line tells the reader that she is quite aware of the fact that it is not healthy for her to be making up scenarios in her head of the worst possible reason she’s not getting the call she’s so desperately waiting for. The reader also becomes aware that this is about a romantic relationship as the character confesses to being in love. The third lines goes on to tell the reader that she does actually have good things happening in her life that she could focus on but she is choosing to focus on the one thing that is consuming her: a pending phone call.


Second Stanza

The phone rings heralding some disaster. Sirens.
In which case, who would ring me to tell? Nobody knows.

Stanza two begins with the words “the phone rings”, perhaps to play with the mind of the reader who begins to share the waiting game for the phone call with the reader. However, this is still in the thoughts of the character exposing that the phone ringing could mean many things, especially disastrous things. The placement of the word “sirens”  between two periods, stresses how intense this thought is for her, she can literally hear the sirens in her head assuming that when the phone eventually rings it will bring bad news. Line five flips to the other side as she begins to think about the situation in which the phone doesn’t ring at all which in turn could be its own form of disaster (staying in a constant form of waiting whilst the person who is supposed to call is no longer able to call),  and again she hears sirens. Line six continues her thought as she expresses her concern that if he is unable to call then nobody would call her and she will never know what happened to him. Through these lines, it is very obvious that the character is disturbed and so the thoughts in her head are jumping to every conclusion possible in order to find a thought that may pacify her racing brain and heart.


Third Stanza

The future is a long gloved hand. An empty cup.
in stranger’s white sheets. Forget tomorrow,

The third stanza looks as if it is centered on the hopes she once had for her future. She claims that “the future is a long gloved hand” implying elegance and suggesting that you never really can tell where it is headed. She then quickly moves on to calling it an empty cup to emphasize the unpredictability of life and what it could hold but also to say that she sees her future as an empty cup. Where she had dreamt of a marriage and a house full of children but those dreams and ideas were left like an empty cup because the closest she got was being with her partner once a week; She is calling him a stranger here because she is stressing the fact she feels she doesn’t even know him anymore seeing that he does not call. The stanza ends with her saying “forget tomorrow” since she has no control over where her thoughts are jumping, she does not want to think about her broken dreams, and so just forgetting what she wanted for her future seems like the easiest solution for her at the moment.


Fourth Stanza

You say, don’t mention love. I try. It doesn’t work.
I go over and over our times together, re-read them.

Stanza four of ‘Dusting The Phone’ displays how obsessive this character is about her situation. Still speaking to herself she taunts herself by telling herself that even though she says not to “mention love”, she tries but it just doesn’t work. In line eleven she confesses to herself that she has “assaulted” the postman in hopes of communication in the form of a letter, or even a delivery of flowers. She continues to acknowledge that she replays their time together in her head, re-living the moments by reading into every move that she can remember. This stanza is important because it touches on the idea that in order to get over and past a difficult situation in life, one must be honest with him or herself as to realize exactly what about the situation is causing the problem; one must assess exactly how emotionally invested you are in the case so that you can develop a strategy to compose and rebuild yourself after you eventually let it all go. However, first, of course, you have to admit to your true feelings to yourself with no excuses.


Fifth Stanza

This very second I am waiting on the phone.
I’ll give it extra in return for your call.

Stanza five begins with the character reminding herself that she is still waiting on the phone. Line fourteen begins with a fragment of her thoughts “silver service”, which is basically a method of serving food, it is mentioned here to convey the reality of the character’s situation. She is not just sitting there waiting for a call in her head, but her actions also show that she is desperately waiting for that call. She claims to have prepared meals, polished dishes, and dressed as if expecting his arrival, who knows exactly how many times. Her entire existence appears to be hanging on to the idea that he will call, he will come back to her. Line fifteen is fundamentally a plea trying to tempt her significant other to call by announcing that she will pour herself into doing extra for him “in return” for his call. This stanza truly presents the desperation and longing the character is indulged in.


Sixth Stanza

Infuriatingly, it sends me hoaxes, wrong numbers;
disappears into my lonely cotton sheets.

The sixth stanza of ‘Dusting The Phone’ starts quite fittingly with the word “infuriatingly”; the reader is quite aware of the fact that the character is infuriated by her situation.  Instead of being upset at the man who is not calling, she is infuriated at the phone. She claims that it tricks her, she receives calls from wrong numbers and “boring people”; others appear boring to her because they do not have anything to say that could interest her, she wants one thing and one thing alone for her significant other to reach out to her. Line seventeen moves forward having her acknowledge that she longs to hear his voice, and she can only hear it when she lies in bed alone, missing his presence.


Seventh Stanza

I am trapped in it. I can’t move. I want you.
Come on, damn you, ring me. Or else. What?

The seventh stanza is very important because the character is coming to a conclusion; she admits that she is trapped in the obsession of waiting for his call. She is so “trapped” that she feels as though she cannot even move. Her desire and longing for him is constant and stays passionate. She describes her situation as “awful” and her mind jumps to the thought that all she has is one single picture of him. Her attention quickly shifts back to the phone, which she curses at to ring and she wants to threaten it with an “or else” but what consequence could she really give an inanimate object? The desperation of her yearning and pining is so powerful in this stanza that the reader cannot help hoping with her that the phone will ring. If it does not ring the reader just like the character in the poem will never get closure.


Eighth Stanza

I don’t know what.

The final stanza of ‘Dusting The Phone’ is not really a stanza but just a single line. This line not only concludes the poem but also the reader’s access to the mind and thoughts of the character in the poem. “I don’t know what” is the line that the poem ends with, it signifies that the character doesn’t know what she can do to make that phone ring with the call she has been desperately waiting to answer and also that now the reader does not know what will become of the girl who waits and waits, dusting the phone in hopes of contact from the one she loves.

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Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.

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