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2003-07-10 - 3:26 p.m.

Listen

On the same day Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent for the telephone, Elisha Gray filed a caveat—a document indicating an inventor’s intent to patent an impending invention—for the same thing. Both men had strikingly similar prototypes and each believed the other to have stolen the idea.

1.

On my cell phone, I scroll through the menu for your number.
Once, I had a mind full of numbers.
Now I know only my own.

Finding your name, I push the “send” button,
thinking of another call placed
a hundred and twenty-something years earlier
on a makeshift device: a wooden base,
a simple funnel, copper wiring and a cup of acid,
“Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!”

“Hey,” you answer, knowing it’s me
because your caller ID said so.
“Can you hold on? I’m on the other line.”

I immediately want to hang up.
There’s a static pop, a click. Then soft rock plays loudly.
I don’t know how to talk on a telephone. I need eyes.

2.

When I was a baby, I was so colicky I had to be taken to the ER.
I lay dying, dehydrated in the hospital, throwing up whatever they gave me.
My parents stood next to my hospital crib.
My father suddenly turned to my mother and asked
“when did you stop nursing him?”
“I was just thinking about that,” my mother replied,
“but it’s been six weeks, I couldn’t produce milk now.”

Just then, the nurse came around the corner,
asked my mother when she stopped nursing me.
A second later, the doctor called from another wing of the hospital
to ask when my mother stopped nursing me.
Within a few minutes, my mother produced milk.
I kept it down. My father believed God planted the idea
into everyone’s heads at that same moment.
The nurse thought it was a lucky coincidence.
The doctor thought it was a matter of human beings
under stress, thinking collectively, sharing thoughts.

3.

Once, I had a mind full of numbers,
Now I know only my own.
When my grandparents were my age,
the world had 6,000 spoken languages.
Today, there are 3,000. We’ve been on the phone
for god knows how long now
and I haven’t shared a thought. I’m listening
as your voice gets bounced through space to a satellite,
and shot back down to the earth.
You don’t feel the distance, but I need eyes.
I want 3,000 lost ways to say hello.

 

 

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