Telephone Voices: 'a gaslighter sighs on the other end'

by Matthew Magill

Telephone Voices has come to a close and marks the first of Radical Art Review’s creative writing competitions. We chose this theme as a way to explore our current reliance on technology to maintain our social lives.


We asked the submitting artists to explore how we interact with each other when our main form of communication is divorced from physical spaces. Now that we have spent a year almost exclusively reaching out through the ether to each other, our poets answer the question: Who am I speaking to, you or the telephone?


Due to the number of extremely high-quality submissions, we decided to highlight two runners-up that made it to the final selection stages. a gaslighter sighs on the other end by Avrina Prabala-Joslin shows a charged stream of consciousness tailored with a creative use of language to tell a story of deception and quiet rage. Read on for the full poem below.


The moment you pick up, I forget the rehearsed words, pace and tone,

the anger like slices of raw mango packed tightly in one paper cone,

set to sting on delivery; draw you on a leash to days you only remember

so so, when you cornered me without much malice and left me staring at

the ugliness of my own face, my person turned inside out. I was supposed

to give it to you today, the moment you picked up. Take space before

you said a word, mark it with the rage of years I’ve loaded into this one

phone call. My emotional diet, a hook from my mouth to yours casting

you wide into an invisible hell of rhetoric and irreverence. The plan is,

to make you see the horror, open your eyes to who you are, see you carry

that unbearable burden of legacy. But you sigh on the other side, like you

knew this before it came, as if you loved me despite me. In your eyes,

there’s no bigger love than erasure. The sigh is a cloud, a puff of smoke,

slips into my ears, down my throat to the pit of my stomach where my

army of words are stationed, ready to seize a semblance of justice from

an enemy who is now sitting with them, around a bonfire, burning these

false agitations accusations that make me bitter, doctoring my insides to a state

of reduced empathy to my own condition. I hang up, cut the call. How long

does it take to forget the sighs the sinews the tuts the aahs, the language

of a wolf under grandma’s skin who only picked up to strike the match,

see you go up in flames?

Avrina Prabala-Joslin is a queer South Indian writer living in Berlin. She's working on a novel that traces the remains of a revolution in a fictional town in south-India. Her story The Plumage was shortlisted for the Berlin Writing Prize 2019. She also performs her writing and is one of the artists chosen for the Asian Performing Artists Lab 2021. www.avrinajos.net. You can hear more from Avrina by following on Instagram and Twitter.