“The capital crime of the Edison laboratories was to go to sleep. This was a sort of disgrace, unless the boss could be caught napping, and then they all followed in line like true soldiers going to the trenches.” – Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind by Francis Miller.
Visiting the lab after supper the tin swinging as my hem
swung a bell & my legs the clapper & finding them
all laid out as if Papa had fallen
& the rest, sick & well, obliged him & I couldn’t help
myself spilling his wedge of pie the sandwich
I made myself from the roast at supper
& I dropped the tin & knelt in the lampblack & grease
in the dress Mama gave me before she died
because I was the daughter of a genius
& he was never home & when I stopped
my teeth on my lips & saw all their chests fall
& rise & heard the buzz of dusty noses
& dry throats instead of the infernal machines
I ruined the rest of my dress
not of an inch of it unembroidered
Mama’s fat fingers both of us bent over it in
lonely wonder. I laid down by my clockwork Papa
& was instantly asleep & the men roared
when they one by one woke & nudged each other
& roared louder at me using Papa’s arm as a pillow
at the blood on my lips, the blood on his side
as I laid there insensible, breathing skin.
* * *
After weeks and weeks of freewriting Edison, I decided yesterday to excavate a few passages and see how they worked out the notebook.
Though writing Edison has had a certain amount of grim, guilty energy, editing the resulting poems was full of the pleasure (and pleasurable fatigue) of making something.
And, in addition to the nice feelings, by the end of the day it seemed that I also had poems, by gum!
* * *
I've been relying on gossipy biographies of Edison THE MAN as well as hagiographies of Edison THE GENIUS for tacks to take with the writing. And for facts.
As I've noted elsewhere on this blog, I've also been reading some of Marion Edison's letters, written when she was a teenager. They've been good for unfiltered emotion, for accusation and affection and longing.
Finally, I've been using some of the 'softer' wikiHows.
wikiHows are open-source how-to articles, many of which seem to be written by teenagers. They range from instructions on how to sew a button or get a good seat on an airplane to how to seduce a woman or rip a phone book in half.
As such, they're earnest and ridiculous and work so hard for some kind of authority. Just like Dot, writing her stepmama from Europe because her father won't or can't write.
How to Connect With Your Father has been an especially fruitful topic to write on, as you might expect.
I've got a few more humdingers in reserve: How to Deal Without a Mother (Teen Girl), How to Be an Effective Parent to an Adolescent Girl, How to Help Your Child Accept a Second Marriage, and finally, How to Cope With a Thankless and Blaming Eighteen Year Old Daughter.
Sad! And fun!