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The Great One
by Robert Whiteley

When the house is quiet
and all those beneath its roof asleep
I shut the bedroom doors behind me
and creep downstairs
to the kitchen

In the dark, my hands shake
as I fumble for the phone
and dial somebody who died
sixteen months earlier

the phone rings once,
twice, three times,
but it’s never the voice I want to hear

instead, I wait patiently
until the voice on the other end
of the line finishes telling me

that this number is no longer in service
so please hang up and try again

this is a recording

hang up. try again. let go. move on
if life was only that simple

if only the voice I wanted to hear,
the voice I now hear only in my head
could talk to me, tell me things like

what my first words might have been

or what my mother looked like
that afternoon in 1965
when she nearly killed him
with her car

or answer even the most prosaic question
like whatever happened
to my Wayne Gretzky autograph
when the house I grew up in, the house
we grew up in
fell to the ground in the autumn
of 2011

if only life was that simple

IMAGE: The author, around the time he met Wayne Gretzky in 1981.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I met Wayne (The Great One) Gretzky in 1981, in Burlington, Ontario, when he came to see his brother Brent play hockey against some of my friends who were playing for Burlington’s rep team. That night my babysitter (I was eight) cut and mounted Wayne’s autograph onto a white piece of cardboard. I kept it on my Empire Strikes Back cork board for years but don’t remember when it went missing. When my father sold the house I grew up in in 2010, I thought the mystery of where my missing Wayne Gretzky autograph may be answered. It wasn’t and my father died in 2015 at the age of 70.


Robert Whiteley
lives with his family just beyond the shadowy reach of the CN Tower. His poems have appeared both in Canada and in the United States. He owns an online antiquarian bookstore called “The Poet’s Pulpit”