Prose from Poetry Magazine

TELETTROFONO

by Matthea Harvey
TELETTROFONO

preset instruction mode

Hello? Please turn off all twenty-first-century gadgets, as they will interfere with the delicate instrument you are holding in your hand.

 

Note: Telettrofono was originally created as a soundwalk with sound artist Justin Bennett for stillspotting nyc: staten island, a Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum project. The order of the text has been changed since the audio was created.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

It looks plastic and unbeautiful, no? But oh if you filleted this telettrofono, the wonders you would see. Two tubes lined with fish scales and mercury, sparks of electricity tripping up tiny gold stairs, a spirit level stitched into a swimbladder, a microphone made of minimolluscs, and, floating in a small stoppered vial, one petticoat snippet, one mermaid tear, and a cell from the gill of an electric eel. You are holding in your hand “the telephone which I invented and which I first made known and which, as you know, was stolen from me.” (Fig. 1)

 Fig 1. telettrofono cross-section

 

FLORENCE

 

preset verifiable fact mode

Whereas inventor Antonio Meucci is born in 1808 in Florence, Italy. Whereas in 1833 he begins work as a stagehand at the Teatro della Pergola where he meets his future wife, Esterre Mochi, born 1815, a seamstress who is rumored to have been a mermaid. Whereas all primary sources for the previous intimation have gone missing, but murmurs persist in the sounds of the sea, and what is the sea if not primary?

 

preset stage direction mode

Listen for the audience settling into their seats — coughs bouncing between balconies, ladies tucking their toes under their petticoats, low murmurs between lovers, handkerchiefs shaken out and folded back into pockets, the hushed voices of ushers, violinists plucking strings, twisting their tuning pegs ...    As the sound decrescendos (you’ll know it when it happens) — now — let the first backdrop fall, then slowly pull on the cord that raises the curtain.

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

Look up. The clouds are a pod of belugas,
the sun, a bloom of jellyfish fluorescing
a few fathoms up, or no, make it nighttime —
the light underwater was never this bright.
That was once my life. I moved through it
smoothly, too smoothly — sometimes just to feel
something, I’d take — between my thumb
and forefinger — one of the many hooks
that were hunting underwater and give it a tug.
Hello, I mouthed underwater, hello?

 

preset verifiable fact mode

The name Esterre means “star.” Antonio means “worthy of praise.”

 

preset fairy tale mode

Once upon a time in the time
of once upon a time, there was
a mermaid who longed for sound —
not for whale songs moodily bumping
for miles along the ocean floor or
the soft swish of tiny fish gills pulsing
in and out, but for what she heard
when her ears broke through the
water’s surface. Crack of thunder.
Waves walloping the rocks.

 

preset patent mode

Patent 122477 “improvements in long-distance listening” (imagined)
(Esterre wants her ears closer to the clouds,
wants them to stretch over the water
so she can hear the opposite shore.
You give her one thing, she wants more.
I bring her a hare after a long day of hunting
and she cries and strokes its long ears.)

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

Humans, let me tell you something. Mermaids,
sirens, shipwreckers, whatever you call us
on a particular day, we don’t abandon the sea
for love or legs — we fling ourselves onto the shore
for sound. I mooned around for years waiting for
the carp’s accordion gills to wheeze out a tune, for
a deafening chorus from those wide-mouthed anemones.
Monday was muffled. Tuesday mute, until Sunday
I smashed my head through the barrier between sea
and sky and there was the two-ton wave timpani,
the puffin’s claws click-click-clicking as it skidded
to a stop on the cliff’s edge, rain spanking the sea
until it wailed. I clapped my hands and the claps
echoed back like an answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Between the third and fourth yes, my tail split
in two, sprouted knees and feet, toes.

 

No. 122478 effervescent drinks

 

preset patent mode

Patent 122478 “improvement in the manufacture of effervescent drinks from fruits” (approved)
Esterre: Louder please.
Antonio: How’s this?
Esterre: Still not loud enough.
Esterre: Can you make it louder?
(Esterre is disappointed that the fizz isn’t louder.)

 

preset math problem mode

A mermaid swims from the Mediterranean into the Ligurian Sea and up the Arno river. She climbs onto the riverbank at 7:02 pm and, drawn by a far-off aria, makes her way to an opera house 1.7 kilometers away at an average rate of four kilometers per hour (accounting for her wobbly new legs). Starting at 6:00 pm and ending at 12:00 pm, 
a stagehand climbs up and down the theater scaffolding twelve times, averaging a distance of twenty meters on each journey at an average rate of five kilometers per hour, and goes down the backstage stairs (an extra twelve meters) at 7:30 pm, 8:50 pm, and 9:40 pm. Will the mermaid and the stagehand meet on the stairs? If so, what distance will they each have travelled and what time will it be? If the opera begins at 8:00 pm and the stage notes call for thunder at 8:20 pm, rain at 8:22 pm, and lightning at 10:12 pm, what sound, if any, will be in the background when the mermaid and the stagehand meet?

 

preset instruction mode

If you find one, pick up a shell. See if it purrs when you scratch it.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

I heard her before I saw her — the costumes
she designed were all about sound —
the whisper-swish-catch of gauze against
raw satin, corsets ringed with tiny bells,
shoes with metal plates on the toes and suede
on the heels, clack-shuffling across the stage.
She must have seen me listening, because
a few nights later, when I put my ear to the
speaking tube I’d made for the director
to talk to the stagehands perched in the trellises,
there was only one word waiting, Meucci, Meucci,
over and over, as if she were calling for
a pet cat, followed by a giggle that sounded
like water running down steps of glass.

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Once, a large square mammal with a wide mouth
of black and white teeth floated up out of a shipwreck.
It’s true, we swam away. We’d never seen a piano before.

 

No. 122479 wave metronome

 

preset patent mode

Patent 122479 wave metronome (imagined)

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Hello Antonio? Last night
I dreamt that giant white
mountains came crashing
down on me.

 

preset verifiable fact mode

When she lived in Staten Island, Esterre had a cat called Lillina who had a total of twenty-four kittens and then those kittens had kittens ...    
Their descendants are everywhere.


preset patent mode

Patent 122480 giant stone piano (imagined)
(I spent a whole night lugging the stone keys
into place, but when the whole octave
was there on the sand and I tried to play it —
hitting the keys with rocks and bits
of driftwood — it wasn’t at all as I’d imagined.
No thunder. No music of the gods. Instead,
a sad little thud sonata. A dud étude. Go ahead.
Try it out. Esterre didn’t like it either.)

 

 No. 122480 giant stone piano

 

preset instruction mode

Keep your eyes open for mermaids.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

Her sharpest, brightest needle — her piccolo delfino
or little dolphin — was always diving in and out
of the seas of fabric on her lap. Weeks later
she’d show me the curse stitched inside the belt
of the cranky tenor that made him crack on his high
C. At the time, my magic was minimal — turn the
crank and watch the cardboard waves roll, pound
the sheet of metal for thunder ...    She gave me scraps
of white cotton and muslin for my snow cradle —
we suspended the bag above the stage and a man
in each wing shook the strings gently, gently
so the snow-cloth sifted through the holes
in the bag and drifted down onto the singers.
That snow scene was the only silent thing that
ever made her smile. The lights worked wonders
though — the night I brought her onto the stage and lit
the candles, each with a mirror angled behind it
and a sheet of blue glass in front, she stamped
her new feet with delight and said, “Daylight!”

 

preset verifiable fact mode

Esterre never learned to read
or write. She signed documents
with an x, like a cross-stitch.

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Your human’s brain sounds like
an octopus. He needs a fin to guide him.

 

No. 125444 purring shell

 

HAVANA

 

preset verifiable fact mode

Whereas Antonio Meucci and Esterre Mochi marry on August 7, 1834, at the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Whereas in 1835 Esterre and Antonio sail to Havana (with seventy-nine other members of the Italian Opera Company and thiry-five tons of props and equipment) to work at the Gran Teatro Tacon, a new Cuban opera house. Whereas Antonio is appointed superintendent of mechanism, Esterre head of the tailoring department. Whereas Antonio devises a water filtering system for Havana, diverts a river under the opera 
house to improve its acoustics, and is commissioned to set up an electroplating factory by the Cuban army. Whereas Antonio, while experimenting with electric shock therapy, discovers that electricity can allow sound to travel along a wire. Whereas one of the operas performed in the Gran Teatro Tacon is Ernani by Verdi. Act One begins in the mountains of Aragon.

 

preset patent mode

Patent 183062 “improvement in hygrometers, for measuring humidity” 
(approved)
“I prefer for general use to give all the parts an ornamental
appearance, imitating the person of a weather-prophet or
some other significant device.”
(Esterre thought it should have been a mermaid
and stitched a revision onto my handkerchief.
She did recommend the whalebone after all.)

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

The mountains are crumbling in the ship’s hold.
There’s no mold — from my experiments
I knew enough to remind the scene painters
to mix clove oil into the papier-mâché — but sea air
is stringent stuff and though we wedged
the mountains between trunks and packed
their peaks with blankets, when the waves
toss our ship like a toy and forks go flying
in the mess hall, I can feel the fissures
forming. Aneto, the largest mountain,
has already cracked in two, and bits of it
are sifting like salt into the floorboards.
All the carefully painted shadows and ridges,
the line of firs, even the tiny path (a folly,
since you couldn’t see it from the first row)
have peeled off. Just yesterday, Esterre found
a mountain hut stuck to the heel of my shoe.

 

preset stage direction mode

For the best tempest, attach a drum or drums to a roll of canvas. If you do not have an electrostatic lightning machine (truly, these are the best, though they can malfunction in humid weather), cut two pieces of wood with forked edges so that when they are fit together, no light can get through. Place these in front of a very bright chandelier. When it is time for lightning, separate and close. Repeat.

 

No. 122970 fog apparatus

 

preset patent mode

Device for indicating the position of ships in fog (patent never filed)

 

preset patent mode

Bleaching process to turn red coral pink (patent never filed)
(Esterre prefers the pink. Some men
will do anything for their wives, I think.)

 

preset verifiable fact mode /meucci deposition

“A man in my employment at one time, somewhere around 1849, complained of being sick, and I thought to try electricity on him. He was placed in one room and, the end of the wire being in circuit two rooms beyond his, I went there wishing to know how strong a current I was using, and I had a duplicate of this instrument with me. 
I called to him to put the copper part of his instrument in his mouth. I did this because I had read that disease could be cured [told] by electricity. The man, while he had the copper in his mouth, cried out from the effects of the shock. I thought I heard this sound more distinctly than natural. I then put this copper of my instrument to my ear, and I heard the sound of his voice through the wire. This was my first impression, and the origin of my idea of the transmission of the human voice by electricity.”(Fig. 2)

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Perhaps you should not
have told him that we use
electric eels to shock away
our headaches.

 

No. 122973 coral bleaching process

 

preset instruction mode

Keep your eyes peeled for pianos.
They are everywhere, too.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

Sometimes I sit in the square and score
the rainstorms — this one starts with
two boxes of Esterre’s pins dropped one
at a time onto the drums, starting from a height
of approximately five centimeters then
over the course of three minutes increasing
both the number of pins and the distance
between the pins and the drumhead. Soon
the rain morphs into a clatter of pencils in
the wings, then three men running up and
down the backstage stairs in heavy shoes.
I don’t think the audience will even hear
the pins, but they may feel the neck-prickle
of a coming downpour. One day I will make
an onstage rainstorm so perfectly real that
a woman in the audience will forget where she is
and open her umbrella, a bright red flower
blooming in the dark field of the opera house.

 

preset verifiable fact mode

cross question no. 339:
Why didn’t you patent your speaking telegraph in 1860?
answer no. 339:
Because nobody wanted to believe it was true what I said.

 

Fig. 2 transmission of sound through wires

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

Humans, do you not all breathe the same
air? Yet you curtsy to that one, kick
the other. Some feet are slippered in pink satin
and carried over puddles, others bare.
When we arrived, they gave us a man to serve us,
as if he were a pebble. The theater is full of
invisible rules. White ladies may eat ice cream
on the right side of the patio. Chinese workers,
mulattoes, and blacks sit way up high,
where the chandelier blocks your view, but
Chinese tourists sit with middle class whites.
Only the aristocracy is allowed in the boxes.
God knows where they’d put me if they knew.

 

preset stage direction mode

Wheel in the mountains for Act One. Don’t forget to oil them before every performance — we don’t want them squeaking like mice.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

“When my telettrofono is in operation the parties should remain alone in their respective rooms and every practicable precaution should be taken to have the surroundings perfectly quiet. The closed mouth utensil or trumpet and enclosing the persons also in a room alone both tend to prevent undue publicity to the communication. 
I think it will be easy by these means to prevent the communication being understood by any but the proper persons.”

 

preset patent mode

Patent 46607 process for making wicks out of vegetable fiber (approved)
(According to Esterre, there
can never be enough candles.)

 

No. 36192 smokeless kerosene lamp

 

preset patent mode

Patent 36192 smokeless kerosene lamp using two electrified platinum plates to embrace the flame. “The flame obtains a great brilliance, more than the gas, and puts in combustion all the oil that is brought to the wick, and does not make any smoke” (approved)
(I tease her, calling her my queen
of kerosene and she frowns,
saying, “I don’t like queens.”
Yet there she sits, a circle of lamps
like courtiers about her at all times.)

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Have you ever heard of an impoverished
mermaid? Pearls? We have shellsfull.
Treasure chests, etc., spiral down in slow
motion, bump softly onto the ocean floor
and spill their treasures. We don’t know
what to use them all for, so we crown
the crabs, hand the octopus the scepter.

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Antonio, will you bring me some seaweed
but please squeeze all the seawater out of it?

 

preset fairy tale mode

Once upon a time, in the time of
once upon a time, there was a mermaid
who loved sound and light. At the opera,
she was drunk on arias and candelabras.
But soon, as fairy tales often do,
the story would turn stormy.

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

At first, in Havana, it seemed I’d brought
the luck of the sea with me. Those divas
I sewed for were always winking and tucking
jewels (secondhand, from their admirers
at the stage doors) into my pockets, certain
I’d make their costumes the prettiest.
People lined up outside Antonio’s laboratory
to have their candelabras, buttons, and swords
silvered. But that was while I was still standing.
The minute I took to my bed it all slipped away.
Of so much gold nothing is left us.

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Look at them now. They might as well
have minus signs on their foreheads.

 

preset verifiable fact mode

From 1838 to 1857 the Havana theaters produced 108 operas, 1,108 tragedies, and forty-eight operettas, using 211 sets and 13,787 costumes. If the Meuccis arrived in 1835 and departed in 1850, what percentage of these costumes and sets were they responsible for?

 

No. 170654 music box



STATEN ISLAND


preset verifiable fact mode

Whereas in 1850 Antonio and Esterre Meucci sail from Havana to New York and settle in Clifton, Staten Island. Whereas Esterre’s so-called arthritis becomes increasingly severe and she is mostly confined to their second-floor bedroom. Whereas Antonio installs a telettrofono that runs from his workshop to Esterre’s bedroom (Fig. 3), making a total of twenty-five different models. Whereas neighbor children call the Meuccis’ home the Devil’s House because they know about the machine that lets voices travel unnatural distances. Whereas the Meuccis, not knowing how to speak English, are swindled out of their savings by a series of scoundrels, and Antonio’s various ventures, 
including a candle factory and a brewery, all fail.

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Hello Antonio? I need more candles.
It’s underwater dark up here.

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Esterre, be realistic. You know
mermaids live to at least three hundred
and humans are lucky to make it to
eighty and then with awful turtle-wrinkles.

 

preset patent mode

Piano with glass keys (patent never filed)
Shhh. Listen. I made that glass piano
back when Esterre still loved sound, but
last week, in secret, I sold it to a friend.
His daughter practices her scales almost
every afternoon, though not for long enough
if you ask me. She’s good at the major scales
and a mess at minor. Most afternoons I wander
by to hear the slight crunch of the low F
(I left the edges a little rough on purpose).
I made the piano base from the roots of grapevines.
Each note tastes like a cold green grape.

 

preset stage direction mode

Switch the sky backdrop behind the houses from day to night.

 

preset patent mode

Staircase piano — part soprano, part sea canary (imagined)

 

preset main telettrofono mode

antonio: Esterre, are you cross with me?
esterre: No one wants for anything in the sea.

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

 

Sometimes I carry her up here for the quiet.
My poor Esterre, who once delighted in
each wheel-clang of the Havana train,
who clapped with the applause of
a whole balcony, winces now if I close a door
carelessly, if I sneeze. I tiptoe around
the house, but the slightest sound pains her —
she feels the clank of a cup in a saucer
(from one story up) as a knife to the knee.
The tick of my watch makes her wince.
Someone teach me how to muffle a factory,
how to hush the horses clattering by.
This is the only place where she will
unwrap her ears, and then only when
I signal to her that I have stopped
breathing heavily from the climb up the hill.

 

preset patent mode

Indicator to know where is to be found the ship, whether s. n. e. w. (found in Meucci’s notebooks, patent never filed)

 

No. 168273 lactometer

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Antonio, I’m lonely.

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

Like his ideas,
the wires are
everywhere —
threading across
the yard, into
the basement window,
up through an
unused heating pipe,
swimming round
the stair banister,
seaweeding in
through the window.

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Your human needs an anchor.

 

preset patent mode

Patent 168273 “improvement in methods of testing milk” (approved)
(Esterre requires that the milk be
precisely as creamy as when it came
from the cow — for her cats,
that is, and, if there’s any left,
for our morning coffee.)

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

For weeks now, I’ve dreamt about a silent theater.
No soffitisti chattering from up in the trellises,
so it’s not the Teatro della Pergola, and it can’t be
the Gran Teatro Tacon because the chairs are covered
in velvet. Mold bloomed so quickly in that climate —
a hover of green fuzz that only I found lovely ...
It’s no theater I’ve seen before. Each light is brighter
even than the araña chandelier in Havana, and that
had several hundred candles. These lights have
round flames and wires snake from them into
strange face-holes in the wall. What trickery
or forecast is this? Where is Antonio?

 

No. 369000 marine telephone

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Antonio, the cats are hungry.

 

preset fairy tale mode

Once upon a time in the time
of once upon a time, there was
an inventor who loved a mermaid
and would do anything to please her.
Because she loved sound, he invented
a megaphone, a telettrofono, and a drink
that fizzed with the tiny effervescent
fireworks of fermented fruit. Because
she loved light, he invented smokeless
wicks and built a candle factory. Because
she was over-fond of candles, he invented
flame retardant paint. Because she loved
her cats, he came up with a way to carefully
quantify the amount of cream in their milk.
Because she missed her sisters’ voices
he made a marine telephone. Because
her bones were not made for this loud
human world, they began to crack and
ache and crumble. Because she needed quiet
he tried to hush the trains, the carriage,
even the gulls. Because she could no longer
climb up or down the stairs, he carried her.

 

preset verifiable fact mode

(House Resolution 269, June 11, 2002)
Whereas Antonio Meucci, the great Italian inventor, had a career that was both extraordinary and tragic. Whereas Meucci was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay his way through the patent application process, and thus had to settle for a caveat, a one year renewable notice of an impending patent, which was first filed on December 28, 1871. 
Whereas Meucci later learned that the Western Union affiliate laboratory reportedly lost his working models, and Meucci, who was at this point living on public assistance, was unable to renew the 
caveat after 1874. Whereas in March 1876 Alexander Graham Bell, who conducted experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci’s materials had been stored, was granted a patent and was thereafter credited with inventing the telephone.

 


No. 169876 bone xylophone

 

preset patent mode

Marine telephone: way for those that work underwater called divers helped by the telephone to speak above water (patent still pending at time of death)

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

Calling us “divers”
is probably a good idea.

 

preset patent mode

Method to render incombustible the wood of house, canvas, ropes, starch sifters, paper, etc. Its cost is very small so that every person can buy it and make use of it also in underwear, when it is washed in starching it with starch mixed with said composition in order to prevent it taking fire in case of a fire, or any other cases (patent never filed)
(Esterre is always leaning
too close to the flames.)

 

preset main telettrofono mode

esterre: Antonio, how are you?
antonio: Will I make you some spaghetti?

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

Of all the mammals, cats move
the most like fish. I love their fur,
soft as seagrass, their trilling purrs.
With my last bolt of velvet, I made fins
for my school of twenty-five felines.
I cut out fifty triangles, laid them out
on the floor, sewed them together,
stuffed them with sawdust. Three
of the cats bit me and bolted before
I could buckle the fins on. Lillina,
the old white one, and Segreto,
the shy one, hid under the bed,
but still, today I sent a school of
twenty sharks swimming down
the stairs to surprise my sweet Antonio.

 


No. 370983 noise prevention system (fabric)

 

preset math problem mode

If a man living in Havana makes $30,000 (the equivalent of $500,000 today) electroplating buttons and swords and candelabras (spends $10,000 on failed experiments in human petrification, lends $200 to a friend) and his wife makes $13,000, then they move to Staten Island, where he opens a salami factory, a candle factory, and a brewery, which all fail, then receives an offer of $10,000 to start a paper mill using his newly patented papermaking process but is only paid $75 when the paper mill goes bankrupt, then takes a job at 
another paper plant for the sum of $20 a week and works there for six months, files more than twenty patents and caveats for various inventions including the first telephone, but is routinely swindled by his business partners, and while he is gravely ill his wife sells his telettrofono models to a junk shop for $6, what is the probability that this man will be bankrupt on his deathbed?

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

My fingers might as well be claws.
Yesterday, for half an hour, I tried to
thread the wrong end of the needle.
I saved up for the handkerchief —
(even five cents is a hard sum to spare,
and I could afford only cotton, not linen),
wanting to embroider his other darling
— the telettrofono — onto it for his birthday.
But my stitches make me sick. They look
like the work of a drunkard or a child.

 

preset main telettrofono mode

Antonio, my legs are hurting me.

 


No. 370983 noise prevention system (rosemary)

 

preset verifiable fact mode

(Nov 14, 1855, letter to his brother)
“All I can tell you is that I am in very poor circumstances and perhaps I have to run away. All that I owned has gone, and all that I have left is the house and the ground and the candle factory. But it is idle to talk about candles, as nobody wants them. I have now started making pianos, but this business is not doing well either. As you can see, I have no luck and everything I start seems bound to fail.”

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

See that rock cluster there?
There. I used to hide behind one
just like it and listen to their
strangely immobile babies,
plump as scallops, screaming
and slapping the glassy sand.
A hundred hermit crabs waved
from the reeds. A human stomped by
in very tall shoes and the crunch
of his feet was a symphony.
But my bones weren’t made for
this world and now each sound
is a knife to the knee.

 

preset patent mode

Noise prevention system for use on the elevated rail (rejected)
(I tried it out in miniature —
swaddling toy trains in cloth,
planting thick rows of rosemary
along the tiny tracks
to muffle the sound.)

 

preset verifiable fact mode

Deposition of William Rider (Bell / Globe trial)
cross question no. 151: He was inventing something or other all the time, was he not?
answer no. 151: I think he was; there is not question about that.
cross question no. 152: You considered him a genius, did you not?
answer no. 152: I considered him a genius at first, but afterward I considered him rather an impractical genius.

 

No. 369881 snowcoat with matching muff

 

preset patent mode

Marine telegraph — for use on ships; the instrument would signal ships upon the water so that vessels would not collide in fog and storm (rejected)

 

preset mermaid monologue mode (esterre meucci)

The experiments exhaust me. He smuggles
me down to the shore at night and packs
my aching legs in sand or little mountains
of salt (no more electric shocks for me),
and though he looks at me hopefully,
we both know I’m not long for land.

 

preset verifiable fact mode

On March 16, 1881, the Meuccis’ cottage was moved across the street. Esterre was quoted in the Richmond County Gazette, saying, “If it tumbles down I shall die with it.”

 

preset marine telephone mode (mermaid chorus)

We know you hear what the sea is saying:
Come back or you’ll crumble.

 

preset math problem mode

In the case of the United States Government versus American Bell Telephone Co. and Alexander Graham Bell, which took twelve years and ended without a decision, there were five thousand pages for the government’s preliminary proceeding, 6,600 pages of evidence 
presented by the defense, 365 pages of government replies and six thousand exhibit documents. What is the total number of typed pages 
for the trial?

 

preset antonio meucci monologue mode

 

If I could make her anything?
A staircase piano where each step sings
out a sound that is part soprano,
part sea canary, or a stairquarium
filled with phosphorescent fish.
Coral fusilli with clam sauce.
Opera glasses that peer into the future
and under doors. A xylophone made
of our creditors’ bones. A cat made of
limelight. A needle that can sew through
water, light, and stone, the strongest seaweed
thread. A snowcoat to enclose her in
snowquiet with matching muffling muff.
A shell that purrs when you scratch it.
A music box with tiny spinning chandelier
complete with functional candles. A wave
metronome with interior surging ocean.
New legs. New legs. New legs.

 

preset stage direction mode

Start cranking the waves. Rattle the tinsel wires for a slight smattering of rain. Tilt the mirrors so that light hits the stooped bearded figure carrying a woman wrapped in a blanket to the water’s edge. Seagull cry three beats later, followed by flap of wings. When I kiss Esterre on her lips, then on each cheek, dim the lights, so the audience can only just see her slip back into the sea. Close the trapdoor quietly as the actress slips under the stage. Curtain.

 


Fig. 3 meucci house, staten island

Originally Published: February 3, 2014

COMMENTS (8)

On February 5, 2014 at 1:05pm Josva wrote:
Telettrofono!

On February 6, 2014 at 11:52am Susan Rooke wrote:
Well worth the time. I've never come across anything else quite like it. A mind-bending, sonic astonishment.

On February 6, 2014 at 12:00pm Lainie wrote:
Are the stitched pieces also by the poet? They are absolutely wonderful.

On February 8, 2014 at 3:24pm Joyce wrote:
How other-wordly, yet familiar this work is. The soundscape adds to the surreal quality of the prose and the embroidery is quite beautiful and served as a prompt for the mental images the work inspired as I listened.

On February 8, 2014 at 5:35pm Rebecca Robison wrote:
This is the most enchanting work I've experienced in years! I was a little confused when I tried to read the written work along with the soundscape because the parts are in a different order.

I loved the combination of fairy tale, real facts, sound and embroidery. A masterpiece. Easy to imagine it in film so I hope Tim Burton reads POETRY...

On February 9, 2014 at 8:30am KX Wang wrote:
wow...during the whole process my heart is gradually
melting!

On February 9, 2014 at 3:03pm Dave Crust wrote:
Wondrous and teleporting. I listened to it through layers
of wet towels. I had to.

On September 18, 2014 at 3:51pm Glyn Edwards wrote:
After two minutes of this, I realise I need to listen the next hour in the
car. On a long drive that it will make memorable.

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 Matthea  Harvey

Biography

Matthea Harvey was born in Germany, spent her childhood in England, and moved to Milwaukee with her family when she was eight years old. She attended Harvard as an undergraduate and the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Iowa. Her collections of poems include Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (2000), Sad Little Breathing Machine (2004), Modern Life (2007), Of Lamb (2011), and If the Tabloids . . .

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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