Modern love. (© Kim Dong-kyu)

Modern love. (© Kim Dong-kyu)

by Nancy Gerber, PhD.

This poem, about obsessive attachment to cell phones, is written in the form of a villanelle.

The villanelle is a 19-line poem that consists of five tercets  (three line stanzas) and a quatrain (a four line stanza).  The rhyming couplet of the final stanza is repeated four times throughout the poem, although the only time the couplet appears without any intervening text is in the last two lines of the poem.  The poem also uses a rhyme scheme of ABA until the final stanza, which is ABAA.

The villanelle mimics the way we dance with our cell phones.  The form is highly structured, using repetition of the couplet as well as end rhyme in a pattern that mirrors our ritualized, repetitive interaction with these mobile devices.  The Italian villanelle was a popular rustic dance during the 16th century.  One could also say the use of repetition in the poem evokes the mother’s verbal interactions with the infant, which involve the repetition of simple words and non-verbal sounds.


This crush with our cell phones is the wish for the mother.
Tethered to our lives like a pulsing heart,                           
It captures selves we hide from each other.                       

Endlessly checking its pulse is a constant bother.             
A screen for dreams, wishes, repression’s art –                 
This crush on the cell phone is the wish for the mother.   

Mohsin Hamid * sees cell phones as safe harbor.               
His characters cling to stories their cell phones impart,    
Capturing fractured selves they hide from each other.      

In session the patient reads me texts from his lover,         
Leading me in a ménage-a-trois where I play my part.      
This crush on the cell phone is the wish for the mother.   

A plaything that connects us to global others                   
Tapping a call to revolution’s start,                                    
Cell phones reveal selves we hide from each other.          

Playmate, companion, sister, brother,                                
Losing my cell phone may tear me apart --                       
This crush on our cell phones is the wish for the mother. 
Capturing selves we hide from each other.                       

* British Pakistani author of Exit West                              


Nancy Gerber is an advanced candidate in clinical training at the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis (ACAP).  She received a Ph.D. in English from Rutgers University and is the author of Fire and Ice:  Poetry and Prose (Arseya, 2014), nominated for a Gradiva Award in poetry by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.



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